Those Happy-Sad Books…

I have been mulling this over for a while, yet it still might come out a little jumbled so bear with me. I was watching ‘The Café’ (a drama on the telly, but this post is about books) the other day and from about ten minutes in I knew I was going to love it. It’s situated in a café on a British seafront where the owner, her mother and her daughter (a jobless budding writer) spend most of their day chatting with its frequent customers. Sounds a bit non-descript so far but it’s honestly not. There’s a wonderful array of characters (a competitive old woman and a gay man who makes his living as a human statue are my favourites) a possible love story, but it’s the tone of the show that gets me the most. It’s in some parts utterly hilarious, in a gentle yet knowing way, and yet also in another moment quite heartbreaking – it is from some of the people behind The Royale Family so makes sense. I love the balance, which is pitch perfect in this case and am now desperate for books that match that balance of happy and sad in equal balance.

I should state I don’t mean any melancholy books, I also don’t just mean hilarious books. You see after an episode of the café I am left feeling a little emotional (I haven’t cried yet, but I can’t promise I won’t) but generally extremely uplifted and happy (from all the giggling) and like I have actually been part of the place, emotions and lives these characters inhabit.

I have been trying to think of examples and one, though it wasn’t quite perfect, was ‘A Spot of Bother’ by Mark Haddon (read pre-blog, its hard to imagine that time now). The last one I can recall doing just this was ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman which hit the exact note of making me laugh out loud before that heartbreaking sense in your gut from page to page, beautiful and spot on. I am sure there are others out there. I was tempted to say ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls (watch out for a Nicholls giveaway tomorrow) as it almost has that feel yet not quite. Maybe that’s because it is a love story (hence I haven’t mentioned ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ etc) rather than a family tale, and I am now thinking if a family at the heart of a happy-sad novel is what makes it work… Or maybe not? Maybe the atmosphere, tone, pitch and delivery have to be just right? Maybe it is just me and the mood I am in, maybe ‘happy-sad’ isn’t really a type of book, I think it is out there though, what say you?

Anyway if you have any recommendations of these sorts of stories I would love to hear about them (and you could win such a book as part of the Savidge Reads advent calendar today too) as I would like a lot more of them to immerse myself in during 2012, suggestions anyone?


Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

22 responses to “Those Happy-Sad Books…

  1. MJ

    The first that came to mind is John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.” While overall it veered to the melancholy, there were certainly moments of humor where I caught myself laughing out loud during my subway commute.

  2. sarah

    I always find Miriam Toews books to be happy-sad, The Flying Troutmans was a perfect example!

  3. Femke

    What came to mind for me is ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont’ by Elizabeth Taylor. It definitely has a certain atmosphere and though mostly moving, it also has its funny moments.

  4. While reading the post (and being after the lovely prize: ) I was thinking about “One Day”, but then it is too sad a story to care too much for the “make me smile” parts. So, I looked through the read books, and I remembered Parsons’ “Man and Boy”. I don’t usually sympathize with male characters, but his truthfulness and humour made me smile while also empathizing with his struggles and despair. Hope you’ll find it a pleasant read!

  5. Liz

    Two books by Rosamunde Pilcher came to mind as examples of bitter-sweet genre. The first, Coming Home, touches on family members and friends in Singapore at the outset of WWII, with gentleness and even hope. The second is Winter Solstice, which begins with the resolution to forgo Christmas until a motley group find themselves together for the holidays.

  6. michelle

    The first one to come to mind for me would be Firmin by Sam Savage. It put a big smile on my face while reading many parts of the book, but at the same time, there was also always that sense of sadness permeating throughout the book. The more I read, the more I felt for Firmin’s frustration at being trapped in a rat’s physical limitations , and his ultimate loneliness as a result of being unable to truly communicate and express himself as a thinking, feeling, intellectual being. So amusing yet heart wrenching to see how he’s so enthusiastic about his “goodbye, zipper!” sign, haha. This book left an undescribabeI aching feeling in me. Somehow the opening line quoted by Firmin from Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier keeps coming back to me…. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard”.
    I think you’ve reviewed this book before, so it’s not anything new to add to your search, sorry.
    Another happy-sad book, though not too sad, more of the poignant nostalgia kind is Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee. The “saddest” part in it for me was the chapter about the 2 old grannies living upstairs & downstairs of each other and how they use to fight & annoy one another daily with their habits but when one of them passed on, the other followed suit shortly. They couldn’t live with each other, neither could they live without the other, sort of.

  7. The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson first came to mind for me. It’s a beautiful book and happy elements are intertwined with something incredibly melancholic. There is a sense of foreboding almost from the beginning of the novel. It’s an absolutely wonderful example of Scandinavian literature and really highlights why I think Jansson ought to be read far more.

  8. Steel Reader

    The ultimate ‘happy-sad’ book has to be Little Women. Who didn’t sob their hearts out when Beth died? But on the whole, the tone of the book is all about the joy of family and hearth and home, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside every time.

  9. gaskella

    One I read this year was ‘Like Bees to Honey’ by Caroline Smailes – which is more sad-happy than happy-sad, but totally captivated me.

  10. Also thought of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” immediately and also “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.

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  12. Jenni

    Anne B. Ragde’s Berlin poplars immediately jumped to my mind.

    An old Norwegian woman is taken seriosly ill and her three sons gather together to pay their last respects. Tor lives with his parents in their pig-farm, Margido is an undertaker and Erlende is a gay window-dresser who lives in Copenhagen with his partner. Tor’s grown-up daughter Torunn, who has never met her father is also invited in to say good-bye to her grandmother. When the strong-willed mother dies, the three brothers, their almost mute father, Torunn and Erlende’s partner are forced to celebrate Christmas in the ramshackle pig-farm.

  13. A lot of Nick Hornby’s books fit this category. But I also agree with Steel Reader about Little Women – wonderful book.

  14. Good question. Made me go and browse my bookshelf, where I came across “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett – it’s a mix of happiness and sadness and the beauty and tragedy of life.

    PS: thanks for sharing your reading in this blog. Came across it last week. And blogged about it yesterday, here:

    Cheers from Germany.

  15. Joanne in Canada

    The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper: I laughed, I cried, I stayed up past my bedtime finishing it, and I didn’t want it to end. And I will reread it.

  16. Liz

    What about “Staying On” by Paul Scott? Part of the Raj Quartet, but definitely stands alone just fine, this was a book that when I reached the end of it, just sighed and wanted to start it again. Happy and sad in all the right places. I have not read the other books in the series and so took this as a stand-alone and it was fine. No problems not knowing who was who. Booker Prize, 1977.

  17. Sue

    Love in a Cold Climate? Without givng anything away I felt like I had been poleaxed at a point just before the end.

  18. Ruthiella

    I would also recommend A Prayer for Owen Meany. A lot of John Irving is laugh out loud funny and then it makes you cry (Cider House Rules, Hotel New Hampshire, etc. I think Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum would fit this catagory.

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