Read H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker Online


Imagine a perfect world where everything is known, where everything is open, where there can be no doubt, no hatred, no poverty, no greed. Imagine a System which both nurtures and protects. A Community which nourishes and sustains. An infinite world. A world without sickness, without death. A world without God. A world without fear.Could you...might you be happy there?H(A)Imagine a perfect world where everything is known, where everything is open, where there can be no doubt, no hatred, no poverty, no greed. Imagine a System which both nurtures and protects. A Community which nourishes and sustains. An infinite world. A world without sickness, without death. A world without God. A world without fear.Could you...might you be happy there?H(A)PPY is a post-post apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland, a story which tells itself and then consumes itself. It's a place where language glows, where words buzz and sparkle and finally implode. It's a novel which twists and writhes with all the terrifying precision of a tiny fish in an Escher lithograph - a book where the mere telling of a story is the end of certainty....

Title : H(A)PPY
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781785151149
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 282 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

H(A)PPY Reviews

  • Meike
    2019-03-08 17:23

    Now Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2017What would happen if we lived in a world of total moderation and mindfulness, where any excess of emotion - both good and bad - was considered undesirable, and our ability or willingness to oblige to these standards was monitored 24/7? Nicola Barker's "H(a)ppy" is definitely a fun read for anyone who does yoga and tracks his/her lifestyle on a fitbit (i.e., me)! :-)Barker's protagonist Mira A lives in a dystopian future, a totalitarian world governed by a mental and technological system established by The Young. Imperfection has become an anachronism, as the system has managed to eliminate most curses under which The Old have suffered: Hate, anger, sadness, pain, war, death, etc. The success of The Young has dehumanizing consequences. The control mechanism tracks every person's thoughts and actions, its access is public (hello, social media). The pressure on the individual is intensified by the fact that people are also judged as parts of groups, meaning that if an individual thinks or acts in a way that is considered wrong by the system, it affects how the whole group is judged, thus institutionalizing peer pressure. Now Mira A, a musician, quite suddenly experiences difficulties trying to oblige to the sytem, although she aims to: Her mind keeps thinking and feeling things that are deemed unacceptable as they reveal deep emotions and attachment. Is it a "kink" indicating that there is something wrong with her, is it a chemical imbalance, can it be rectified with an operation? Will Kite, who is sent as an official agent to eliminate the kink, help her or does he intend to send her to the few remaining humans living outside the system, which is considered a horrible punishment?It would certainly be possible to write a dissertation trying to find all the ideas, hints, and concepts Barker has planted in her book, and taking her baits while reading the text is great fun. What fascinated me most though is how Barker celebrates ambiguity and how it renders language and music beautiful: Because there is more than one way to understand language and hear music, because art communicates with our indvidual character, because it makes random connections depending on who we are, language and music represent our humanity: "The meaning is contained in the ...the gap." - "Blackness and whiteness collapsing into each other." - In the world outside the system "(...) words are fluid. (...) freedom kills certainty. (...) narrative pervades every tiny chink and crack and orifice and poisons everything."Narratives are dangerous because controlling your own life means writing your own story, and whoever does that becomes uncontrollable and thus an enemy of the system. Barker makes letters and words oscillate, until Mira A herself is oscillating between desire and restraint. This is also where Paraguyan guitarist Augustín Barrios comes into play, a musician who was a wanderer between his South American heritage and European classical music, between the languages of Guaraní and Spanish, between traditional ways of appearance and conforming to Western standards. Barker lets Mira A connect with Barrios in fantastical ways.There are also some interesting thoughts on religion in this book: The Young are their own Gods, so faith, which again refers to something beyond our grasp and cannot unambiguously be pinned down, is forbidden. A cathedral becomes a symbol for human desire - and Barker showers us with related images. This can as well be seen in the context of music (Bach is mentioned, who was very religious, and Barrios, whose major work is named "The Cathedral"), totalitarianism (which generally also opposes religion, as every totalitarian ideology wants to see its own belief system as absolute), and human fallibility.Plus: There is also a lot of humor in the book: "The Banal is a warm blanket." - sentences like these give the text partly an ironic turn, which I really enjoyed. In a twisted way, Barker makes you appreciate everything that is wrong with our society: Perfection suddenly seems way worse, or at least this kind of perfection.Thanks to the good people at the Mookse & the Gripes reading group who inspired me to read this as part of the Goldsmiths readalong!

  • Paul Fulcher
    2019-03-02 18:31

    'I told her to be careful,' The Stranger said, 'not to be seduced by language. It can often be beguiling - seductive - beautiful, yet it is also unpredictable, dangerous, even lethal.'Update: Now winner of the 2017 Goldsmiths PrizeNicola Barker’s H(A)PPY is the final of the 6 books for me on the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize, a Prize intended to "celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form." The Goldsmiths Prize was launched in 2013 the tercentary year, specifically chosen as the tercentenary year of the births of Diderot and Laurence Sterne, and Barker’s novel is a fitting heir to Sterne in her use of typographical innovation, as well as very different (indeed similar only in its difference from other more convention works) to Barker's previous novels.H(A)PPY is set in a future, post-apocalyptic, world of The Young:We are Innocent. We are Clean and Unemcumbered. Every new day, every new dawn, every new minute, we are released from the right bonds of History (the Manacles of The Past). We are constantly starting over and over from scratch. Right here! Right now! A new beginning. A New World. Everything is possible. We are reborn. Our narrator is Mira A, named after the pulsating red giant star (, with its white dwarf companion Mira B. But it is difficult not to also see an authorial nod to Shakespeare's Miranda and hence to Huxley's Brave New World.The world in which she lives has The Young, looked over by the benign Altruistic Powers, living a seemingly idyllic existence, free of stress, worry, disease and jealousy, their lives regulated by The System, their mental well-being monitored by The Sensor, and recorded in real-time for all to see on The Graph, and where necessary adjusted by neuro-chemical intervention by Neuro-Mechanicals. Their access to information is controlled by The Information Stream a type of fire-walled system (reminded me a touch of in the early days of the internet!) where information isn't banned but rather drip-fed so as not to disrupt The System: all information is available, but not all is healthy:The Young do not believe (as The Old once did) that they have a natural right to information. Information - like all the other old vices (money, lust, possessions) - can be stored up - amassed - and exploited, or used to manipulate and undermine others.As genre dystopian fiction, the novel wouldn't be entirely successful – the New World isn’t really explained in coherent detail (who are The Altruistic Powers, what exactly was the trigger leading this world to be created and how did it evolve?) and Mira A's, almost accidental, rebellion against the system isn’t followed through in terms of its wider implications (e.g. she comes across a sub-group called The Banal – possibly rebels or possibly more hard-line on the preservation of The System, but the story line rather peters out). But that isn’t Barker’s aim.Mira A is a guitarist, and her dissonance results when she comes across the early 20th Century Paraguayan guitarist Agustín_Barrios [whose music Barker recommends listening to when reading the novel] and also a picture of the guitarist with a young-girl in the corner. She notices her graph 'pinking and purpling' – the colours are re-produced in the text - as she starts to get emotionally involved in his story (an Excess of Emotion being a thing to be avoided at all costs by The Young) and his story starts to intrude, literally, on her own thoughts.Even the word happy literally starts to separate and oscillate (like Mira A and its twin star) - H(A)PPY, hence the novel’s title - as in this visual excerpt ( Neuro-Mechanical is sent to fix her, Kite, a character who plays an ambiguous role in the novel as he seems to both try to bring Mira A back to the calm and happy world of The Young, but also to provoke her to further investigation of The Cathedral she has constructed in her own mind (itself based on Barrios’s most famous composition - La Catedral: see e.g. this John Williams performanc a pivotal passage he warns her of the dangers of constructing a narrative, such as those of The Old:The narratives of family and romance and adventure, the masculine and the feminine narratives, the narratives of class, of nationalism, of capitalism, of socialism, of faith and myth and mystery, historical narratives, science fiction narratives, experimental narratives, horror narratives, literary narratives, ‘reality’ narratives, crime narratives. The Sensor automatically deconstructs those stories for us, so that we may fully comprehend their full meaning, their immense reach and their invidious power, their ultimately deeply conservative urge to comfort and pander and bolster and reassure. …Narrative is not really your speciality, Mira A. Your story is only half a story. Occasional. Trite. Partial. Meandering. And, strange as this may seem, this is actually a very good thing. Barker herself has pinpointed the desire to deconstruct narrative, but also the fear of doing so, as key to the novel:I’m not destroying narrative for everyone, I’m destroying it for myself. Which is disastrous for me, because obviously I understand the world through narrative. When you destroy the thing that explains everything to you, then what is that process? What have I done? So the last year has been trying to understand why I did that, what it means for me. But also what it means in terms of the novel, because I’ve sort of deconstructed the novel to such an extent – what is left of it? destruction is most evident in the novel in the 2nd half. The relatively simple typographical variation in the first half – occasional words in blue, pinks, red and purples, reflecting the way The Graph behaves - becomes something far more spectacular (and much more ambitious on Barker and the typesetter’s behalf).I have seen others refer to House of Leaves as a precedent for the different fonts, while I was reminded of the beautiful Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish, which was produced at much the same time. But Barker goes well beyond either, and in any case, as noted above, and as discussed in Reading the Graphic Surface: The Presence of the Book in Prose Fiction, typographical innovation dates back much much further than this, at least 250 years to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.As extracts from Barrios's story, taken from The Paraguay Reader: History, Culture, Politics intrude, as well of that of the indigenous population of Paraguay, with extracts from Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians (slight echoes of the Savage Reservation in New Mexico in Brave New World), Barker also brings in the classic novel I, the Supreme and intriguingly the Guarani language, alongside Spanish still an official language in Paraguay and which (per Wikipedia) 'is one of the most-widely spoken indigenous languages of the Americas and the only one whose speakers include a large proportion of non-indigenous people'. Mira is introduced by Kite to the Stranger, ostensibly to persuade her to return to the tranquility of The Young, but he also speaks to her direct in Guarani, to suggest an alternative.We generally like to use it because your Sensors find it difficult to interpret. Many of the words have dual meanings. It is incoherent - contradictory. Your System will not allow for variation. And at the novel’s end, Mira finds herself out of the system, joining The Stranger outside of The System in The Unknown:How might I describe this place?How might I describe this feeling?This strangeness?This fearfulness?This filth?This confusion?This mystery?This hopefulness?'Do not try.' He smiles, as if reading my thoughts. 'There is no need.'I smile back at him. I inhale. I exhale.Of course. But of course. I softly embrace silence.

  • Gumble's Yard
    2019-02-19 19:19

    The 2017 Goldsmith Prize winner - ahead of a strong shortlist.We [The Young] were given just enough choices to make us feel as though we were free, but not so many that our minds (our still-fragile intellects) became overloaded. Doubt ended. The information stream was purified ……….. We live Now. We live in Light. And when darkness threatens (darkness? Can there ever truly be darkness again?) they simply adjust the chemicals. Sometimes – while we sleep, as we gently dream – they remind us of how it used to be so that we appreciate how good things are now. Now that we are Free From Desire. And we are H(A)PPY to be reminded of this because it reinforces our sense of peacefulness, of calm, of conformity, of equilibrium. They tell us about the lies of The Past. Of how The Young were told that the needed to rebel against the norm in order to feel Whole. That creativity is dependent on struggle and suffering.H(A)PPY, in a way similar to Brave New World is set in what seems to its inhabitants a utopia but to us potentially a dystopia.The core inhabitants of this post-apocalypse world, The Young, live in a largely asexualized society which has rejected emotion (particularly an Excess of Emotion). Instead The Young strive to stay In Balance, both individually, as small communities and as a broader society, this Balance being measured on The Graph. Their thoughts and actions are recorded and visible to all on their Information Stream, with dangerous concepts highlighted in different colours and a pinkening of their graph. Any inadvertent deviation is controlled by chemicals or if required by recalibration of physical Oracular Devices. Their access to information (particularly information which may disturb The Balance) is controlled by the Sensor. In the past, The Old were completely awash with facts and non-facts. They asked a question and it was properly answered. A fountainhead of information was released. But was the water clear. Did it quench, revive or simply deluge?.Clearly some of this initial set up can be regarded as a satire of Generation-Snowflake, of safe-spaces, of the increasing self-censorship of the internet, and of the increasing trend for public figures to have to issue a public apology if they ever give rise to comments which reflect their unguarded thoughts and which deviate from now socially-established liberal values. In the hands of Dave Eggers his book would have remained there. The main plot development comes when the narrator Mira A, a musician, starts researching into a guitar player who she knows as, but who is the (real life) Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios (whose works Barker recommends the reader to listen to while reading the novel). While viewing a picture she spots a small girl in the margins of the picture. Further information on Barrios, his music, his country and the language of that country (part Spanish, part Guarani) is dotted throughout the book. In the hands of Ali Smith– the book would then alternate between the narrative and reflections on the artist.However Barker is neither Eggers or Smith and instead of remaining where she is and following through on these early directions, the book very deliberately spirals off (and largely out of control) in two different ways.Firstly in its story. Shortly after the book starts she notes that the word Happy is coming out as H(A)PPY in her stream and tries to understand why the word is “Disambiguating, parenthesising” – something which seems to be linked to her enquiries into the past and which appears to threaten the entire edifice of the new order. From there we have a hardline faction within The Young, The Banal, a shadow twin Mira B (at times we are unclear which of the two is our narrator), a word or text Cathedral and much else even harder to explain.Secondly typographically – the book is already unusual in mimicing the colouring of the words monitored by the Information Stream but we start to have blank pages, pages of repeated coloured text, different typefaces (including mirror writing), symbols (including some which we are lead to believe are written directly into the stream and therefore onto the pages we read by Mira’s hands in a dream like state).Early on Mira A is examined by Kite, a Full Neuter who describes himself as a Mechanic to The System. He says to herOf course you will be familiar with the narrative form ….. those curious narrative structures employed so often and so successfully in the past. The narratives of family and romance and adventure, the masculine and the feminine narratives, the narratives of class, of nationalism, of capitalism, of socialism, of faith and myth and mystery, historical narratives, science fiction narratives, experimental narratives, horror narratives, literary narratives, ‘reality’ narratives, crime narratives. The Sensor automatically deconstructs those stories for us, so that we may fully comprehend their full meaning, their immense reach and their invidious power, their ultimately deeply conservative urge to comfort and pander and bolster and reassure.This passage seems to strike at Barker’s main motivation here (and in most of her writing), a rejection of conventional novels and stories. Instead in this book, she systematically seeks to undermine and deconstruct the very concept of narrative and story. Kite says just before this to Mira AI have inspected [your] narrative …. Its flow is, well its plodding – pedestrian – fluctuating - halting – occasional. It’s intermittent, at best. Narratives are not your speciality …… The real danger with your narrative … is that it is lazy. …. You are idly playing with random details. You are forcing things together. You are making strange connections. And you are struggling to make a kind of sense out of themBarker clearly herself does not even seek to specialise in narrative. Her work though is far from lazy or idle-play, and the opposite of plodding or pedestrian. Instead it sparkles with ideas and invention. However, at times she (or at least I as reader) did struggle to make sense out of what seemed random details and strange connections. Ultimately once something is undermined and deconstructed what is left lacks real form. Nevertheless this was a stimulating read and one which seems entirely designed to be shortlisted for the Goldsmith prize.

  • MJ Nicholls
    2019-03-16 01:37

    Having milked the frenetic oddball comedy until the teats were scabbed and bleeding (The Yips & In the Approaches), Barker is back at her inventive best in this striking dystopian novel that introduces a tone of unease and mild hysteria to her wide repertoire. Mira A, a diluted Barker heroine (frequent exclamation marks still in evidence), is finding her increasing thought crimes against The System—where no thought or negative emotion is tolerated—to cause her to lose her brackets and colours. Her slow tumbling from The System (and her own narrative) is entwined somehow with Paraguayan guitar maestro Agustín Barrios, in a warp of illogic native to Barkerland, and as Mira A loses her handle on h(a)ppiness, the novel unleashes a series of beautiful typographical images of tuning forks superimposed over kaleidoscopic text, and cryptic swirls of spooky prose. Barker’s abstract approach to the dystopic, replete with metafictive flourishes, a unique use of coloured text, and a subtle parodic edge, places H(A)PPY in a league of its own as far as novels about the fear-filled future are concerned.

  • Neil
    2019-03-19 19:42

    "…the Old were completely awash with facts and non-facts. They asked a question and it was promptly answered. A fountainhead of information was released. But was the water clean? Did it quench, revive or simply deluge? Did it not often threaten to saturate and drown?"So says a character in H(A)PPY, looking back from a future time to, we are undoubtedly meant to assume, our information rich age. The quote above is a thinly disguised criticism of the Google-age. The world our protagonist, Mira A, lives in has managed to go beyond this to create a utopian world where it seems the aim is to level everything out, avoid all extremes. Perfected citizens in this utopian world (known as “The Young”) live with The Information Stream which makes everyone’s thoughts, dreams and actions visible and where every thought and action is measured against The Graph: the aim is to not disturb The Graph. Words that disturb the graph appear on The Information Stream in pink or purple so you can see if a person is straying from The Graph by the colour of their Stream.Clearly, from our current perspective, this control, this avoidance of emotion is far from utopian and we would probably describe such a world rather as dystopian.It will come as no surprise to learn that this is story of someone who begins to worry about the utopian world she lives in, begins to rebel against it, discovers rumours of a rebel band that lives outside the boundaries.The basic story in H(A)PPY is not original. If I was judging the book purely on story, I would probably give it a fairly low rating.However, the story in this book is really just a vehicle for Barker to use. The thing you notice most about the book as you read it is the very creative use of typography. Early on, words are coloured (see above for colours in The Information Stream). Then you come across a page set out with white space such the words leave gaps that form the shape of a guitar. Later on, there are all kinds of weird and wonderful page layouts. Do not attempt to read this book on a black and white Kindle (fortunately, I knew this and bought a paper copy).The guitar is a motif that continues through the book. It is worth noting that Barker puts a note at the start of the book suggesting that readers listen to Augustin Barrios playing guitar as they read the book. This is because Barrios and his guitar feature heavily and several pieces of his are discussed during the story. I did as Barker suggests and played the music in the background as I read. Obviously, I can’t compare it with the experience of not playing the music because I didn’t do that. But I can say that music did, I think, add something. The recordings are poor quality because they are very old, but somehow that emphasises the fact that the book is set sometime in the future: we as readers end up sat in the middle between the recordings and the “brave new world” in which Mira A lives. I like the idea of an author providing a sound track for their book! And, as you discover things about Barrios, the music playing in the background starts to take on more significance.All this means that I am slightly conflicted when thinking how to rate this book. The story does not have anything particularly interesting to say: anyone who has read Brave New World, 1984 or any of a large number of other dystopian novels will recognise the story and know roughly where it is heading (although the end does get kind of interesting!). But the layout and the ideas about narrative mean that it is a book with a lot to say for itself. I’m settling on 3 stars which is a average of 2 for story and 4 for creativity. I would not be surprised to see this on The Goldsmiths list when that is announced next week - it seems to tick all the boxes for that award.

  • Jonathan Pool
    2019-03-22 18:24

    On page 265 Mira B says:" I can't really comprehend this, at first. I start to re-read it "Mira B speaks for me!!!I haven't read Nicola Barker previously and so I don't know the extent to which H(A)PPY is a departure from her previous style. This is experimental writing. It's difficult to analyse formally and interpretation is likely to be even more subjective than is the case for other difficult books.The easy bits:* the delivery of words on the page is unusual. Colour text is used to highlight mood and sensation. Blank pages convey silence; repetitive blocks of words appear, with shapes and different typefaces making the story multi dimensional. Mark Danielewski is an exponent of this format in hisHouse of Leaves andFamiliarseries. I think there's something rather striking about this layout, but I don't dispute that to some readers it will just seem gimmicky.* the critique of "primitive" societies is conventionally written, and shocking in its own very different way. In Paraguay the Guarani and Ayoreo peoples have their own traditional customs. These are physical societies as distinct from the futuristic main body of H(A)PPY which is thought and mind based.* expression of freedom through music (a theme explored among others by Madeleine Thien and William Vollmann). Barker cites the true life guitar player Augustin Barrios as her inspiration for H(A)PPYThe harder bits of H(A)PPY concern the interpretation of the dystopian future.As ever, Orwell casts his 1984 shadow as we are in a world of thought control; of The Graph, The Sensor, The Stream, EOE (excess of emotion), The Banal.People are happy as there is an absence of awful things happening to them, and of sadness; but the happiness that arises from the absence or suppression of bad things doesn't compensate for the removal of improvised joy and freedom that comes from some individualism, expressed in our passions (e.g. music).Barker is singularly unimpressed by the Big Brothers of the Internet age, the corporations"information is dangerous, it is a weapon."(39) Putting this all together I struggle to make a satisfactorily coherent meaning of H(A)PPYMy middle ground rating of three stars masks the fact that I enjoyed elements of the book while also remaining largely bemused by large swathes of it.A strong contender for the forthcoming 2017 Goldsmiths Prize for creative writing.

  • Eric Anderson
    2019-03-06 01:37

    Nicola Barker’s novels consistently surprise and puzzle me with their wide-ranging subject matter, discursive style and wondrously mind-bending sensibility. She’s a writer frequently in tune with what’s happening now whether it’s memorialising a magician’s 2003 performance art in her novel “Clear” or investigating the contemporary cultural and ethnic landscape of England through the life of a boorish pro-golfer in her novel “The Yips.” So it feels like another creative feat that she sets her new novel “H(A)PPY” not just in a dystopian future, but in a post-post apocalyptic time. Here she charts the journey of a musician named Mira A as some inner rebellion forces her to question the meaning of freedom, creativity, individuality and, yes, happiness itself. The result is a fascinating tale which speaks strongly about our modern times and demonstrates impressively daring narrative ingenuity.Read my full review of H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker on LonesomeReader

  • Stephen
    2019-03-10 23:19

    this book was a mixture of brave new world, 1984 and alice in wonderland all mixed together, where there is no pain, war but at what price though. enjoyed it myself as you followed the journey of mira A and her guitar experiences.

  • Jill
    2019-03-05 01:17

    I didn’t see anything special in this book other than some colored font. While parts were clever, I didn’t find much meaning or pleasure in it. It may be that I’m not clever enough, but it is not a book for me.

  • Tim
    2019-02-23 19:41

    I cannot put what this novel is about into my own words, and others here and in the The Mookse & The Gripes group have done so much more eloquently than I ever could.Suffice it to say that H(A)PPY is a lot of fun to read, try to decipher, and think about. A real treat if you're in the mood for it.

  • Robert
    2019-03-16 19:20

    Here's my review, Ludwig Wittgenstein and all:

  • Jaclyn Crupi
    2019-02-20 00:34

    I don’t usually do dystopian but I’m glad I made an exception for this weird and clever book.

  • David Barnard
    2019-03-14 01:36

    Have I missed something about this book? I didn't enjoy it. The typography was good and after a few chapters I thought this book could be amazing. It was not.

  • MisterHobgoblin
    2019-03-12 01:17

    Nicola Barker does sci-fi. Barker has made her name with quirky stories set in the less glamorous suburbs of southern England, mixing zany people with everyday situations. So when we meet Mira A in a future utopia it is a real departure.And Utopia it is. The world is run by and for The Young. People are hooked up to Sensors that turn pink or purple when a person starts to display an Excess Of Emotion, and it will be recorded on The Graph for others to read. This will encourage The Young to return their thoughts to neutral matters as soon as possible, perhaps using chemical assistance.But all is not well. Mira A’s Graph often turns pink or the purple. She discovers forbidden guitar music by Agustin Barrios that veers dangerously in the direction of free expression. So dangerous is music that musicians can only be referred to in code (numbers that, when read backwards, give each letter’s position in the alphabet). Her alter ego, Mira B seems to be determined to knock her off course.Through subversion, Mira A experiences sensory overload and accesses a world where her Graph shows shades of green and blue, words forming patterns and blank space. This is a masterpiece of fun and games, beautifully set in coloured text and graphics. It is a novelty item, yes, but it is also a highly lyrical story which should make us question how far social media is forcing us in a direction of increased social compliance and false emoting. I loved H(A)PPY and read it in a day.

  • Isobel
    2019-03-22 01:39

    Mira A is h(a)ppy. She is a musician in the world of The Young, where everything is open and part of a system of filtered information: there is technology to survey all members of the community, from their actions right to their thoughts. Each member has a graph which colours when they are becoming out of balance, warning them when they might be about to experience an EoE (Excess of Emotion). Any emotive words therefore appear in different colours in the text. Mira A has started to narrate her life and finds that she can't stop, despite being warned against it. The utopia unravels to a distopia as she struggles to distinguish between dreams and reality and is overloaded with information that it is difficult to make sense of. The story of a musician from Paraguay becomes intertwined with her own narrative; their lives become mixed up in dream encounters. She is threatened with the old world of death and pain if she can't rebalance herself, and it is this she spirals towards, staring in to the light which is the only way she can think without being recorded. That summary was particularly hard to write as this novel is difficult to summarise. It's maybe not even appropriate to call it a novel -- Barker has pulled the form apart and done what she likes with it in a critique both of individual narrative and the attempts to restrict it. At all points it's not entirely clear what is actually going on. It's a very liminal book which feels like an act of lucid dreaming to read, the characters never quite clear, the different stories becoming mixed up. Some parts are beautifully poetic, others simply sentences repeated over and over, the text getting larger or changing colour as it goes along. It's striking in the images it creates and the voids it leaves between them, sometimes with gaps in the story and other times with blank pages you find yourself frantically turning to find out where the narrative has disappeared to. It's a performance of a book; Barker recommends at the start to listen to the music of Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios, and doing so means the book really shuts you off in to its world, demanding all of your attention. I read Darkmans years ago but still think of it now; her latest novel is equally as mad and beautiful and I enjoyed it.

  • Jay
    2019-02-28 00:33

    Well, I’ve finished reading H(A)PPY, and although I appreciate and enjoy experimental writing, and feel that she’s been reasonably successful in her approach (it was clear I was reading an author with talent), I’m still a bit dissatisified with this book. It functioned more as an intellectual exercise, something to puzzle out, and it’s smart enough and clever with it’s typeface and color, but sadly that’s about all I was left with when I finished. There’s not much surprisingly insightful or emotionally engaging in this novel. I wanted the stakes to be higher and I wanted to gain some fresh perspectives on reality due to the virtual/electronic culture that exists in this post dystopian world, but I didn’t really come away with any of that. Like many books, it could possibly reveal more with a second reading, but there was nothing compelling enough about this one to make me read it again. I suppose I’d give this book a 3 out of 5 for the skill involved and the creativity displayed. But I ended the book simply saying, “well, okay”. (On a side note, I did learn about the Paraguayan guitarist, Agustin Barrios, and I’m glad of that.)

  • Bart Van Overmeire
    2019-03-03 18:25

    H(A)PPY, or: All bow for the divine Nicola Barker.No novel from Barker's wonderfully extravagant mind is ever the same and she H(A)PPily outdoes herself in her last one. The future belongs to The Young. They are Innocent. They are Clean and Unencumbered. They work (but never struggle) to stay Perfect, thanks to The Graph, The Information Stream and The Sensor. Mira A, however, is merely H(A)PPY, with the A struggling in parenthesis. Despite the administration of chemicals and the readjustment of her Oracular Devices, the music of (or Agustin Barrios as the Paraguayan guitarist was known in the Manacles of The Past) keeps leading her astray.Prepare for a book unlike anything you have read before.

  • Julia
    2019-03-07 01:23

    This went over my head, I'm afraid. I certainly took my time with 'H(A)PPY' (thanks so much for your patience, Meike!) so I wouldn't read it at times when I would be too impatient for a book like this, but could still at no point develop any relation with the book. It felt too constructed, experimental and meta for me to bond with either the story, characters or message.I loved the idea of the different fonts, colours of the text, symbols, images etc. but also didn't find the designs or fonts very appealing.

  • Fabulitas
    2019-02-20 23:38

    Ok, so my evaluation of this novel is... oscillating. Clever, fun to read and touching on wildly different subjects (definitely a lot to unpick & discuss), but if you look for a good story in a traditional sense, you won't be H(A)PPY.

  • Startinmerc
    2019-03-20 21:31

    That went there, didn't it?Ennoyable & interesting, then it all kicks off and woooowwwww. Then a bit of a tail-off, I found. But still, excellent work.4.005

  • Daren Kearl
    2019-03-03 20:33

    Happy is more about the author's idea than a narrative. Indeed, cleverly, but to the detriment of the book, a narrative is a bad thing in the dystopia Barker has created. The Young are hooked up to technology that monitors their thoughts and highlights dangerous words or emotional responses. In this way the system encourages purity and white blank pages. Mira A goes against the system by producing increasingly creative pages. It is a testament to the idea that the reader longs for the next burst of coloured or shaped text within the book just for a bit of interest, but I'm not sure this makes for a satisfying read.

  • The Twins
    2019-03-07 23:46

    Not sure what to say about the book - "if you haven't anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". Ok - I liked how Nicola Barker played with the quirky fonts and the various colours. I've never taken drugs in my life, not medicine, drugs, but this is how I would imagine it. Mira A - all her senses totally overwhelmed, her brain in overdrive and she's trying to make sense of it, but nothing in her world and surroundings is real.I h(a)ppily (and obviously) admit I don't get the book, I persevered throughout the book but I'm just not clever enough...and that is ok, I'm still h(a)ppy!

  • Damian
    2019-02-22 01:39

    I've not read every Nicola Barker book but I've read a few (there's a couple waiting on my shelf as well) though not in chronological order. This is one of the one's I've enjoyed the most, it's not quite Darkmans but it's much better than The Yips which I hated, and better than Cauliflower which I liked.I'm not going to review the plot here, and doubt I could fully do it justice since it's quite an experimental novel and I won't pretend to have fathomed all of it out, but I will say it's not going to be for everybody. It doesn't all make sense. It will annoy some people. Got to say though I really liked it, I like a book that plays with language and tries something new and I especially like a book that plays with format a bit, the multi coloured fonts were very fun, it must have taken ages to print and produce; goes some way to explain the cost I guess, I borrowed it from a library. If I had to compare it to any other books, maybe House of Leaves for it's atypical approach to page layout. I would say it reminded most of Embassytown by China Mieville. Story wise it's nothing like, but there's a lack of understanding at the beginning of both novels which only begins to fade as the reader becomes aware of how the language is being used. This isn't a very good review for which I apologise, but it's quite a tough book to review without actually approaching spoiler territory which I am loathe to do. As always my suggestion would be just to read it and find out if you like or not, a book unread is a book missed.

  • Jo Everett
    2019-03-12 19:19

    In a way, I feel bad about giving Barker's novel a low rating. It was nice to see a piece of experimental prose, inflected with colour, symbols, and innovative text. The reason I didn't award it a higher star rating was mainly because I didn't enjoy it. The dystopian, futuristic narrative didn't really allow me to connect with the story or the central protagonist. There were some interesting ideas within the narrative relating to control, how what seems like a utopia can quickly become a dystopia, and communist control. Essentially though, I didn't care for the central protagonist or the outcome of the narrative. Equally, Barker started to flit towards an idea that grabbed my attention, but the narrative didn't bite in the way that I wanted it to. Without trying to spoil anything, the narrative started to head towards an uprising, a group rebellion, but didn't seem to fully explore this notion. Or maybe it did and I just missed it. It's hard to tell because I really did started to loose interest by the end. The story became hard to follow, hard to imagine, and repetitive in many ways. I could see this as a visual narrative, such as a film or TV series, but it didn't work for me as a novel. That's said, I don't think everyone will dislike it. I think that for some, this book will delight in its innovation. I certainly won't be reading it again, but I will pop it on the bookcase as an example of experimentation with the prose-narrative form.

  • Justine
    2019-02-24 00:18

    Okaaaaaaaay. This book is the weirdest and the most confusing I've ever read, but it is also touching in a way. I'm pretty sure I have not understood everything, it is impossible we'll say! I've never read a book like this, it is really unique, different. First, the format is original: there are different color inks and different typographies. It is thanks to this way of telling that the reader understands the story, little by little. It really is a story that tells itself, and then disappears. In this way, it can be seen as a metaphor for a writer's work, the act of writing a book. I learnt a lot about Paraguay - I knew nothing about it except its location on the map before reading this book -, and about Agustin Barrios - unknown to me too before this reading -, and, at the same time,H(A)PPYshows the reader a world without a past, and the consequences of this absence of History. This work is dense, strange, and absorbs the reader. It also deals with music, with doubles, with, in a way, brain-washing and rebellion, with humans altered by technology, with society trying to control everyone for everything. It deals with freedom and happiness. Can we really be, truly be, happy in this kind of world? A confusing book, but a book to think.

  • Blair
    2019-02-20 22:19

    Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize for fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form, this book by the always interesting Nicola Barker certainly does that. Although some will look to the coloured typefaces and crazy typography and link it to Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, this tradition of playfulness with form goes back to at least Tristram Shandy. Barker's novel is a futuristic utopia/dystopia, but she's not so much interested in world-building along the lines of Brave New World as she is in exploring the pleasures and limits of narrative form. Dreams play a big role, as does the history of Paraguay and especially the great guitarist Agustin Barrios. The Paraguay connection was something that made me pick up the novel in the first place, as I lived there for a year and have an abiding interest in the country. I followed Barker's recommendation and listened to the work of Barrios (which was new to me) while reading the book.

  • Peter Hargreaves
    2019-03-14 19:24

    The irony of personal transformation is that, although we understand it as a change that occurs within us, we experience it as a creeping and unsettling mutation in the world around us- in particular the words and symbols we had previously come to rely upon to make sense of things. Whether it be triggered by death, dislocation or a spiritual awakening of some kind, such experiences are frightening, exhilarating and bewildering by turns, a phenomenon this book captures to perfection. This is because it has been written by an author with the integrity and the courage to place her thoughts directly onto the page, with none of their crystalline beauty lost in translation. Don’t be fooled by the carefully curated mayhem in the latter sections. This is a precision tooled instrument meticulously put together by someone who has clearly been there and done that. A moment will come in everybody’s life when this book is indispensable. Not to be missed.

  • Charlotte
    2019-02-23 22:36

    At last! So good to read this narrative written by a woman! Paranoia, ego, sci-fi, questing for answers, ceaseless churning... a cracking tale. Ach, so good. And so nuts. And so new. But also just a good yarn. Ripping pace. And funny!Pretty drugs. Pretty construction-of-meaning. Pretty pretty with its amazing typography / graphic / layout play. Good imaginings. Good commentary.Fuck the mindfulness gurus. Fuck social media. Rage on.

  • Chris
    2019-02-26 17:29

    This book is just amazing. The Goldsmith's Prize was rightly awarded for something so inventive and dense yet totally understandable and easy to read.I don't feel I can really discuss this fully without going through all the plot points and, even then, you would not get the experience of reading it.It may not be for everyone but it is certainly worth trying. Give it a go if you can, it is certainly worthwhile.

  • David
    2019-02-25 22:26

    I'm not very good at writing reviews and this was the first novel by Nicola Barker that I read from cover to cover. I think that I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure. I'm going to have to re-read it again. 4 stars for the typography.