Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord

There was a rather large amount of buzz of ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ when it was published back in April (interestingly when I got it out from the library after seeing it advertised in almost every tube station – its only taken me 4 months to read it) and the more I heard about it the less I instantly wanted to read it. You know how it can be; you hear lots about a book you want to read it but maybe not until the chatter dies down a little. The more I did hear though the more I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be a self help book or fiction and that could very much be a make or break with me as you might have seen when I read ‘The Alchemist’.

You can pretty much guess what the premise of Francois Lelord’s novel is going to be from its title ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’. Hector is a rather successful psychiatrist treating both clients in hospitals and people privately. Yet the more and more he works the more he realises there is dissatisfaction in the world and the less her really believes he can help people. So he decides to travel the world in search for what makes people from here there and everywhere happy and see what he can find out.

From the opening line ‘Once upon a time there was a young psychiatrist called Hector…’ I thought this might be some rather marvellous modern fable and fairy tale. As the book continued in the same narrative, rather like you are a child being read to, I began to feel more and more patronised and slightly riled. Lines such as ‘Roger believed that the good lord talked to him constantly, what they call hearing voices’ and ‘the airline had overbooked the part of the plane where Hector was supposed to be sitting, and she was giving him a seat in the part of the plane where you normally had to pay a lot more. That part of the plane is called business class’ had me inwardly groaning and I was getting more and more annoyed. And I haven’t even mentioned the lessons Hector learns along the way yet…

Lesson number 6: Happiness is a long walk in the mountains.
Lesson number 12: It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people.
Lesson number 18: Happiness could be the freedom to love more than one woman at the same time.
Lesson number 22: Women care more than men about making others happy.

So why didn’t I just put the book down and walk away? Well ‘over 2 million copies sold worldwide’ was why. I wanted to see what it was that made that many people by it. By the end I admit I was despairing that so many people had bought it or that it had indeed been published, to me it was a positive it was short. I know I am one in a very small minority but then maybe this is a lesson for Hector, lesson number 24: happiness can be being the odd one out of 2 million plus! Too be fair though I did read the whole thing, just with slightly gritted teeth.

A book that will: either enlighten and entertain you or possibly drive you crazy enough to need to see a psychiatrist yourself. 2/10

It’s very, very unlike me to be negative about a book. I think in all honestly being on of the judges of The Green Carnation Prize is going to be of great benefit because I am reading some corkers that have hardly received any attention whilst books like this get pushed into the mainstream and heavily promoted. It irked me. I do feel a bit bad posting this but I am using it to highlight something I think is important. I also don’t think anything I say will stop this being a best seller and good luck to it too. I also know those of you who read this blog are intelligent enough to want to try books out yourselves regardless of my thoughts. There, I feel much better.

Maybe this is the start of a new leaf in Savidge Reads? Or maybe this was a book that just had a profound effect on me that I couldn’t help but post my thoughts no matter how negative they might be or make me seem. I am a very happy person, honest! Who else has read this book? What did you think? What are your thoughts on ‘self help fiction’? What are your thoughts on negative reviews?

(Sorry to Gallic books as you publish some gems it’s not personal it just made me a bit cross when it should have made me happy!)


Filed under Francois Lelord, Gallic Books, Review

39 responses to “Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord

  1. I liked the premise of this book enough to read it – but I think you’re right, it’s patronising and I’m really not sure the idea of self-help fiction works. I can’t think of any other examples of it though, so my opinion of the genre is based on this one!

    • The Alchemist is like a fable that is sort fo self help and rather ‘self defining’ but to me it was like this, a little too self aware of what its trying to do and so isnt actually that good a fable or well written story.

  2. Argh. #22 in particular kind of makes me want to bang my head against my desk repeatedly :S As popular as it may be, it really doesn’t sound like a book for me either.

    Self-help fiction and I don’t get along, to be honest. I read a total of four Paulo Coelho books because I had friends who kept swearing that if I read just one more it’d all click and I’d become a fan, and just… no. That wasn’t quite what happened. As for negative reviews, I like them as much as positive ones. Like you I sometimes worry that my being negative might discourage someone from picking up a book they’d love (it’s all so personal, after all), but I also trust my readers not to trust me completely, if that makes sense.

    • Has it become as popular as we all think? There was the buzz and there were the adverts everywhere but I havent seen lots of people with it, I dont mean that in a catty way, its like The Passage, i wonder how well these books have actually done. (Can you tell I pay no attention to the book charts haha?)

      I think whats great with the blogoshere is people who read, comment, etc, etc are interested in the bloggers thoughts but not enough to make it a defining reason to buy a book or not. I think we add to peoples decisions either way a little bit maybe.

  3. Negative reviews do not a negative person make, Simon. I often have my interest and curiosity piqued more by a negative post then a positive one.

    In this case though: meh. I can’t understand the major drive to promote it and the hype alone is enough to turn me off.

    • I think with me if I really dont like a book I dont read it and if I havent finished a book its just my policy not to blog about it, the last page can make a book, the only thing is sometimes a book needs to make me get there too. I was having a very long discussion about this with Meike from Peirene on the phone on Friday.

  4. Does it feel liberating posting a bad review?

    I agree on your point though that you can have hug bestsellers that really arent very goo at all while other real gems of a book only enjoy limited success or none at all.

    • I was more nervous about posting something bad than feeling liberated. I dont like to be negative full stop if I can help it.

      I am sure I am one of the very few people in the world that didnt love this so maybe it does deserve the hype, who am I to say?

      • I don’t know, I’ve certainly found myself hating enough bestsellers that I only buy them now on strong recommendation from a trusted book blogger/friend! I was worried I was just being contrary for a while, but no, I’m still not entirely sure how I found the energy to read the entirety of The Horse Whisperer.

        Horses for courses, as Nicholas Evans might say!

  5. It sounds as though we had a very similar reaction to this one. I found it patronising too.

    I hope you decide to post a few more negative reviews as I do think it helps to get a full appreciation of your reading taste – and might save me from reading a book like this in the future 🙂

    • I actually think you liked it a bit more than me Jackie as I had seen your thoughts after I had finished the book.

      I only review books I finish and its normally books I like (unless its one for book group which would read to the end but they have been quite successful with me on the whole) so a negative review is unlikely from me that often. Plus in all honestly wouldnt want to stop anyone reading a book regardless of how much I hated it.

      I like your point about knowing my reading taste more, I had never thought about it like that.

  6. Why can’t you be negative? Is happiness liking everything and keeping your mouth shut when you don’t? I want reviewers to tell it honestly.

    • I do tell it honestly, I just don’t finish books I don’t like and I dont think I can review something that I havent read the whole of. I am always honest about how much I love books that I love though.

  7. I find self-help books ridiculous, but I did enjoy Hector – because I read it as a sort of fable, rather than something that I was supposed to take seriously. I loved Hector as a character, and enjoyed the unique narrative tone. If I was supposed to take his list seriously, then it’s a different matter, but I took it as an interesting novel rather than genuine self-help!

    • I wasn’t taking the book as gospel when I read it Simon, I just found the voice sooooooo patronising and that got my back up from the start. Then the lessons started and I thought ‘please be brilliant’ and I just got more and more annoyed.

      I think in trying to be two things and very clever at both it just ended up being a badly written story really, but like I say I am one in several million who loved it that didnt like it.

  8. This book hasn’t been released here in the U.S., so I’ll be interested to see how it does (I think it’ll be out at the end of this month.) It sounds like the kind of thing people here will like but that I’ll end up scratching my head over. I doubt I’ll read it, not because of your review :), but because it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing.

    And I see from your sidebar that you’re reading the new Atkinson. We have to wait until March(!) over here, but I may just decide that I can’t wait and hop over to the Book Depository.

    • I think looking at how well self help books (fiction or non) sell it will carry on being a huge hit. I just didn’t gel with it at all.

      I am indeed reading the new Atkinson and will be going off line shortly as its so addictive I just want to read it and nothing else. Whats that… I am meant to be longlisting from book award submissions… drats haha.

  9. I don’t think you should feel bad about posting a negative review! I love finding a negative review of a book I loved or the other way around, it brings in new perspectives and pointers about it and helps the reader decide better whether it’s a book for them.

    I can see why you didn’t like the writing style and it would probably annoy me to, but I can also see why others might like it, at the very least it’s different and a different way of creating a self-help book.

    • I agree that you should have negative reviews as well as positive. If you constantly say that you like a book all of time then in my opinion, it wouldn’t be realistic, after all you can’t like everything. Saying what you think about a book both good and bad, it just shows that you have an opinion and that can only be a good thing!

      • I don’t give all books ten out of ten and I hope with my sevens etc that I give reasons why I love it and what sort of didnt work for me. However if I don’t finish a book, and I nearly didnt finish this one, because it bothers me so much or I dislike it so much then I don’t review it as I didnt try the whole thing.

    • I can see why other people would like it, it was just the narration that did my head in, am wondering if it is something to do with the translation, hmmmm.

  10. gaskella

    I think I’m going to side with Simon T – I’ve started but not finished this one, and I was enjoying it as far as I’ve got. I’m not taking it seriously at all, and I too rather like Hector so far and am finding it a cheerful little thing. Maybe its the idiosyncratic French humour that comes across as patronising to some via the translation!

    My glass is half-full, hope it doesn’t become half-empty by the end of the book.

  11. This book would annoy me too. I hadn’t heard of it, but now I know.

  12. I didn’t care for this one, either. And I actually liked the Alchemist. In fact, compared to Hector, I loved the Alchemist. Very few people can write an adult book as if it is written for children. Lelord is not one of them. I think posting negative reviews is a fine idea. Especially since you write them the same way you write your positive reviews. You are so clear as to the reasons why you feel a certain way about a book. That can tell me so much more about if I want to read a book or not than just a simple rating or plot summary.

  13. Don’t feel bad about trashing a book. A little snarkishness is refreshing. I am generally upbeat, but it is fun to let the bitch in me peek out. I don’t mind self help books (I’ve been saving The Happiness Project for when I am unhappy), but I don’t like being talked down to or preached to.

  14. Just the other day I was thinking that the blogging community as a whole was becoming too positive. I was getting tired of reading glowing review after glowing review. It started seeming false. So, this is fantastic! You read a book and didn’t like it. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.

  15. winstonsdad

    oh I forgotten this one when you mention it the other day ,this hadn’t appealed to me thou ,all the best stu

  16. Definitely an over-rated book. I read it in a sort of half-hearted way, but it was a bit of an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome after all the praise its had. I agree with your insightful review!

  17. novelinsights

    Oh this is a funny review. I can totally see why you didn’t like this – seems like over sugary nonsense to me.

  18. Me and self help books don’t mix either. I totally didn’t get The Alchemist although many of my friends absolutely love it to bits. But you can’t really expect to like all books, and I thought your review was great (and funny!)

  19. Pingback: I’m going against the trend here … « Gaskella

  20. Lisa Fforbes

    I am about 3/4 of the way through reading about Hector’s search for happiness, and I have a strong urge to drop him in the wastebin, noble though his quest may be…

    I’m finding the writing style tedious and annoying and far from funny. This is largely because I find the observations made in the book incredibly patronising, and Hector’s approach to personal relationships (especially those with women) bordering on the sociopathic. The author has proudly drawn us a portrait of a man who has been practising as a psychiatrist for years (!) apparently without one iota of insight. I do understand that Hector’s on a quest, and I know it’s just a tale, but I prefer my tales to be told by a narrator who is neither smug nor patronising

    I felt I had to look for an indifferent review of this book, as I was sure there are many people out there like myself who don’t always like the mainstream, and I wanted to see what they were thinking. So thanks for the opportunity. Incidentally, I too believe that you, as a reviewer, should be able to post an unfavourable review and not be deemed a negative person on the strength of it.

  21. Pingback: May’s Incomings… | Savidge Reads

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