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Something Like Happy [Hardcover]

John Burnside
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
Price: 11.89 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

3 Jan 2013

In these remarkable stories, John Burnside takes us into the lives of men and women trapped in marriage, ensnared by drink, diminished by disappointment; all kinds of women, all kinds of men - lonely, unfaithful, dying - driving empty roads at night. These are people for whom the idea of 'home' has become increasingly intangible, hard to believe - and happiness, or grace, or freedom, all now seem to belong in some kind of dream, or a fable they might have read in a children's picture book. As he says in one story, 'All a man has is his work and his sense of himself, all the secret life he holds inside that nobody else can know.' But in each of these normal, damaged lives, we are shown something extraordinary: a dogged belief in some kind of hope or beauty that flies in the face of all reason and is, as a result, both transfiguring and heart-rending.

John Burnside is unique in contemporary British letters: he is one of our best living poets, but he is also a thrillingly talented writer of fiction. These exquisitely written pieces, each weighted so perfectly, opens up the whole wound of a life in one moment - and each of these twelve short stories carries the freight and density of a great novel.

Scottish Book of the Year 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (3 Jan 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224097032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224097031
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 125,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Each story has a splash of intense colour at the heart. These are Scottish versions of the stories of Raymond Carver. Burnside writes tough, home-grown prose that inhabits the story form with perfect fit." (Brian Morton Independent)

"A haunting and beautiful collection that deserves to be read slowly and savoured but which you won't be able to put down." (Caroline Jowett Daily Express)

"Masterly. A spiritual, haunting book." (Francesca Angelini Sunday Times)

"Burnside's prose glitters." (Leyla Sanai Independent on Sunday)

"Burnside brings a poet's linguistic precision and emotional acuity. The writer's deep, bloody engagement with the stuff of life can't fail to leave the reader enlivened, and keen to feel more." (Hannah McGill Scotland on Sunday)

Book Description

A collection of masterpieces in short fiction in praise of hope, from prize-winning author John Burnside.

Scottish Book of the Year 2013

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something Like Masterly 2 Jun 2013
An almost flawless collection of stories from John Burnside. His previous story collection, Burning Elvis, is arguably the best of his early fiction - the novels don't really start doing anything for me until Living Nowhere - and this new book is a worthy successor to Elvis. Several of the stories are not too far removed from some of the novels, with their concerns for dead-end lives marked by violence in dead-end towns - the title story, Godwit, and A Winter's Tale, for example - while others are insightful character studies of people who are lost, in limbo, passing through.

What strikes me about this collection is the subtlety of John Burnside's concerns as a writer; what matters here are the slightest nuances of emotion and thought which, although transient and deeply private, are life-changing for their characters. This is not a book in which stuff happens. (Apart from a few murders, a beating or two, and some strange, darkly erotic games.) But having said that, a good short story could be defined as one in which not much seems to happen, yet everything does, if only in implication. And that defines the pieces in Something Like Happy perfectly.

Hard to choose a favourite - Perfect and Private Things, The Bell-Ringer and Roccolo are stand-outs; perhaps the best of all is The Cold Outside, an extraordinary story about a man dying of cancer picking up - in the sense of giving a lift home to - a transvestite who has been beaten up. This wonderful story is typical of the risks John Burnside takes in this book: small moments that are at once totally ordinary, and at the same time, totally unique, like those rare dreams that, once experienced, you know have somehow added something to your life; you're not quite sure what, but things afterwards are richer, stranger.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pity, Terror, and Understanding 3 Feb 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The stories in this book are not "pleasant", in the same way that Samuel Beckett's work is not "pleasant". Yet they show a mastery of the short story form and bring to it many of the same qualities that Beckett brings to his work. Stylistically and dramatically, they bear comparison with Guy de Maupassant's stories (and one of the stories, "The Deer Larder" directly evokes de Maupassant). In terms of human sympathy they reminded me of Beckett's famous dictum: "Fail again; fail better".
Some people will be put off by the stories' confrontation of "unpleasant matter" and their unswerving observation of human failings. Yet the stories' deep sympathy (as is also shown in Burnside's poetry) is always clear.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this but didn't... 26 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to give credit where credit's due: John Burnside's latest collection of short stories is well-crafted, carefully assembled, the work of someone talented and experienced. Short stories are, I think, hard to get right: there's only a limited space in which the author has to successfully create a believable (and readable) world; and then there's the question of how the stories tie to one another (if they do, which in this book they do but sometimes in a very subtle way). Burnside succeeds on both counts: each story in 'Something like happy' comes alive and leaves the reader with a lingering, unsettling sense, a particular feeling that runs through each story, quite distinct from the feeling in the stories before and after. The book explores strong, difficult themes such as the terrifying, despairing violence within a marriage, the painful question of memory (remembering one's youth, in particular), facing terminal illness, and- most consistently throughout the book- the quiet despair and loss that come within long marriages, with the creeping passing of time and the losses and lack of hope that can creep up on you.

However, even though I respect the author for what he's done here, I have to admit I didn't enjoy this book and struggled to finish it. It's not that the stories didn't come alive for me, they did, and they left me with various thoughts. Still, there was a coldness and desperation that ran through the book, and I as a reader responded to this in an equally 'cold' way: that is to say, the stories and the characters left me cold. There was little (if any) hope in the book- not that authors have any obligation to make me, the reader, feel hopeful!
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5.0 out of 5 stars fine writing, but bleak 29 April 2014
By johnh
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My first Burnside. Wonderfully well written, a fine and delicate stylist that reminds me a little of John Banville. But bleak, bleak stories. I will be reading more, but will need a break to digest the searing nature of these slices of modern Scots life.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fiction v non-fiction 29 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a rule I read historical non-fiction but I am a big fan of James Joyce and this excellent book of short stories reminded me of "Dubliners" or some of James Kelman.
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