I picked up this book quite randomly and now I've read it I can't believe I've never heard of this writer or this book before or that there's hardly any reviews for it. It's in the style a self-help/interior design book, full of over-enthusiastic 'magical mottoes' from seemingly shallow interior designer Alizia Tame. A fun start but it soon moves beyond satire into something quite wonderful and touching and by the end those mottoes don't seem quite so throwaway. As someone who's always hoping that 'this book' or 'that wallpaper' will change my life, it's awesome to find a book that actually, kind of DOES do that. I've emerged from it with a slightly altered view of my own world - and now I want to redecorate! For all the right reasons!
Just a shame the paperback version doesn't have such a gorgeous cover as the paint-chart hardcover that attracted me to it - looks a bit chick lit-ish. A shame 'cos there's much more to it than that.
I found this an oddly baffling book. The main character, Alizia Tamé (she was born Alice Tame) has an unshakeable belief in her own genius ... as an interior designer ... as a wife ... as a mother. Nothing that happens in the course of the book in any way dents this conviction, even though her client soon stops using the office she has designed for him ... her employer sacks her ... her husband leaves her for another woman, taking their daughter with him. Despite all this, at the end of the book, she has learnt absolutely nothing, and her self-belief is as strong as ever.
Obviously, it's silly to demand that a story must have a moral (’The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily; that is what fiction means’), but, surely, you expect to see some change ... some character development? The thought even crossed my mind that the book might have been written with malicious intent. Perhaps, if you knew Matthew Reynolds's family and friends, you’d know who Alizia was, and why she was being portrayed as she was.
So the book is interesting as an extended, and very well written, character study; it's just that it doesn't seem to lead anywhere.
If you only read "Designs for a Happy Home" to marvel at the author's ability to write convincingly in many different voices, that's a good enough reason. I was rather nervous in the first few chapters. The novel is a journal comprising writing by Alizia, the main character, and other contributions that she solicits.The author chose to make the writing style of Alizia slightly ridiculous. The threat was that in sustaining this, he would tip over into easy ridicule. He deftly avoided that trap and the development of Alizia's style as the novel becomes darker is so .... what's the word... ok, perfect.
Alizia is an interior designer and some of the jewels in the novel are the elucidation of some of her fantastic creations. The mind boggles at some of the contraptions that Reynolds comes up with.
Reynolds writes beautiful prose In an argument with her husband that, on the surface is a reasonably conducted affair, for Alizia: "And in me, it was like I was sand, draining out of myself between my toes. I saw my face as if had been painted in a fresco, great black hollow eyes and a black wailing mouth from which no sound came out".
He is a kind novelist and a very funny one. Highly recommended.
This book is a surprisingly good read, and I do mean surprising. Alizia Tamé is more than just an unreliable narrator--she's unpredictable, which is even more interesting. In most comic fiction, you get a feel for the writer's tone pretty early on and either cotton to it or not, depending on your own sense of humor. Reynolds accomplishes something quite different here. Not only does he use a variety of narrative points-of-view, he also plays with the reader's perspective on Alicia. At first, she seems like a two-dimensional cartoon ripe for parody, yet along the way she deepens to become a sometimes-sympathetic, sometimes-maddening focal point.
Designs for a Happy Home walks a fine line between parody and sincerity, without falling wholly into either camp. It's a light read and a page turner, yet one that never follows an expected formula. For me, that's what made spending time with Alizia a real and unique pleasure.