Published by Amazon Publishing on September 1, 2016
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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Ripped apart by Portugal’s financial crisis, Daniel’s family is struggling to adjust to circumstances beyond their control. His wife and children move out to live with family hours away, but Daniel believes against all odds that he will find a job and everything will return to normal.
Even as he loses his home, suffers severe damage to his car, and finds himself living in his old, abandoned office building, Daniel fights the realization that things have changed. He’s unable to see what remains among the rubble—friendship, his family’s love, and people’s deep desire to connect. If Daniel can let go of the past and find his true self, he just might save not only himself but also everyone that really matters to him.
In the midst of Portugal’s economic crisis, Daniel is doing what he can to return his life to normal. But things are bad. He’s lost his job, his house, his family is living out of town with extended family, and just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, they do.
Daniel as a narrator is pretentious, narcissistic, and definitely unreliable. (The first half of the book reminded me of the narrator in Herman Koch’s The Dinner.) The book is written as an imaginary conversation between Daniel and his friend Almodóvar, who’s in prison. Almodóvar’s side of the conversation asks a lot of questions—usually voicing exactly what I was thinking at that moment—so it starts to feel like the narrator is having a conversation with the reader.
Ultimately, this novel explores happiness. How do we determine how happy we are? How useful is it to quantify that? And when considering happiness, we also have to think about what bring us down. Bad news can be so much more potent and powerful than good news; even when more good than bad exists, the bad tends to overshadow everything (right, 2016?). And even worse, it can affect those around us.
“The negative energy generated by that one moment could be enough to undo everyone else’s progress.”
It may be fiction, but The Shelf Life of Happiness proved to be a good thought exercise, one with plenty of humor (sometimes dark, sometimes not). Hang on if the thick hopelessness of Daniel’s situation bogs you down in the beginning; an adventure awaits, and I think it’s worth sticking through to the end.