(Penguin Books 2010)
Told in the mild and affectionate manner of a bedtime story, Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord is a sweet and sometimes simple tale of a psychiatrist’s quest around the world to discover what happiness is.
Hector takes a vacation from his psychiatry practice to understand how people come to be happy and what that means to them, and to do so, he travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States. During his travels, he meets a variety of characters who are more than happy to chat with him about their lives (he is a psychiatrist, after all) and explain to him what they consider happiness. While an interesting idea for a book, the earnestness in the writing was sometimes too much to bear. Complex issues like economics, drug and human trafficking, and medical/emotional depression were simply referred to finitely as “globalization” and left at that.
The simple and amiable writing approach was heartfelt at first, but becomes tedious to read by the fifteenth page. We are left the option of only agreeing with Hector as he listens to the stories of others, and while he makes quiet notes about them in his head, the issues are not thought out enough or left room for debate or discussion, and our only response can be the same as his in his psychiatric office: “Mm-hmm.”
It’s curious to wonder who this book was intended for. If indeed meant to read to children, I wonder how the parents will explain passages that refer to “doing what adults do when they’re in love,” which occurs several times in the story, as well as what the harmful chemicals are that Eduardo sells.
If meant for adults, as I suspect it is, the issues are presented with a smile that is too bright and a hug that is much too tight. Perhaps the book is trying to point out that we all have the option for happiness, and that it is up to us to make the changes. However, the book complicates itself by bringing up all the different ways that we fail in our search for happiness, by being caught up in greed and the troubles that money present. The only advice the book doles out is that these obstacles are something we have to deal with.
This book was something to pass an afternoon with, but not much more.
There are three subsequent books of Hector’s travels, Hector and the Secrets of Love,Hector and the Passage of Time, and Hector and the Wonders of Friendship.