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3.3 out of 5 stars
65
3.3 out of 5 stars
The Promise of Happiness
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on 27 August 2006
If you are a traditionalist and like story telling with a straight forward construction told in the past tense, you will hate this book! It is undoubtedly challenging as it jumps from the first to the third person from one paragraph to the next and the author interrupts at times too. It is basically about the sheer magical fascination of ordinary family life and I loved it. It smacks of reality and is poignant without stooping to the manipulative emotional hand wringing seen in so much contemporary writing. Highly recommended to anyone interested in human interaction and what might motivate behaviour.
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on 28 January 2014
Having enjoyed other Justin Cartwright novels I started this one in a positive mind set and the early chapters set the scene with flair and imagination . A third of the way into the book I had begun to find the whole story trite and frothy ; the characters all equally insufferable and the ambition of the book somehow limited and shallow.l have perhaps come to expect more from this talented writer than is delivered in the title.
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on 4 December 2005
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad novel: it's well written and the observations are astute. But it's so tediously predictable, so tediously formulaic... above all it's just so tediously ENGLISH. The only surprise in the book is the biog, which says that Cartwright was born in South Africa and educated in the US, because you would never infer such a background from the writing. Yes, the multiple-perspective narrative is probably a nod to Faulkner, though nothing much is made of that connection (it's more a sly wink from the author). Both stylistically and in terms of its subject matter, the book is effectively a rehash of work that was being done almost twenty years ago by Julian Barnes, William Boyd et al. The clever use of up-to-the-minute language, which is probably what has persuaded some (amnesiac) reviewers to rave about the book, means that it will appear hopelessly dated in a few years' time. Within another decade I expect it to be forgotten altogether, and no number of nice reviews in the Sunday broadsheets will alter that.
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on 18 March 2013
I've just read 'The Promise of Happiness' - the first Justin Cartwright book I own, but I will be buying, reading, and hopefully keeping, more. I took it on holiday along with 'The Inheritance of Loss' (Hiran Desai) - too tedious for words and direction-less; 'A Passionate Affair With a Total Stranger' (Lucy Jackson? Don't recall) - easy reader, instantly forgettable; and 'A Question of Love' (Isabel Wolff) - a better quality of chick lit. Cartwright's work was, for me, the best of these; a captivating and engaging story, with real snigger-aloud moments, penned beautifully. The only slightly less-than-satisfactory aspect was Juliet's tale (no spoilers here) and the constant reference to 'Ju-Ju' but I imagine the author was using this technique to convey the family's indulgence of a favoured child whose adult decisions cause bewilderment. I enjoyed it and have added it to my 'keeping' shelves (my other holiday reads were left behind for any guests without reading material to discover), if you are unsure (on the basis of mixed reviews) I'd say give it a go.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 February 2009
I can see why this book has received such mixed reviews: it has some fine qualities, and some aspects which may well put some readers off. The fine qualities first: some arresting images; excellent and sometimes strikingly-phrased descriptions of places - the Cornish coastal village, parts of the United States, different parts of London. The characters and their relationship to each other come alive, and they are given interesting interior thought processes. The author conveys detailed knowledge over quite a range of subjects: Tiffany stained glass, the filming commercial advertisement, and botany among them.

Possibly off-putting: if you want the story to move along in a chronological manner (but why should it? Lots of novels don't), you may be disappointed: there are a lot of stream-of-consciousness digressions (some of them philosophical, especially about complex moral issues) and disjointed memories which interrupt the narrative, and prevent it from being chronological. The story is meandering and slow-moving, and is less about development than about the situations in which the five principal characters find themselves: crusty Charles Judd, seriously disorientated by having lost his job in London and by his favourite child having been imprisoned in the United States, charged with having been an accessory in an art theft; his matronly wife Daphne, put-upon but not put out and more than coping; their much-loved daughter Ju-Ju (Juliet) emerging from the experience of two years in prison; her brother Charlie, the "rock" in the family, who runs a few profitable internet sites selling socks (sock-it-to-me.com) and other clothing: he is collecting Ju-Ju on her release and bringing her slowly back so as to give her time to adjust to normal life again; and the other daughter, Sophie, who has been leading a rackety life in the London advertising world. The central theme - though there are many sub-plots - is about Ju-Ju's slow return and how this is expected to impact on the rest of the family. They all expect a promise of happiness.

Cartwright is certainly a gifted writer, and a very many-sided one: this book is entirely different from his `The Song Before it is Sung' (see my review).
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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2014
Cartwiright's prose cascades and the reader is immersed in its flow, lost in the breakwater of meltdown for the Judd family leading their disconnected lives. A dysfunctional family desperately trying to be normal, yet aware that they are placed in an abnormal situation awaiting the release of Juliet from a prison in the US. The book is funny, weird, tragic and different. The reader is allowed into the innermost thoughts of this bright family, each member able to express themselves lucidly yet steering clear of articulating their feelings to each other. The setting is beautiful and inspiring - St Enodoc in Cornwall - and the references and extracts from the poetry of Sir John Betjeman, buried at st Enodoc, lend a pathos to this novel which may just be the best book I've read this year.
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on 1 March 2007
'The Promise of Happiness' is a novel in the most self-concious sense, and it is also English in the most self-concious sense. It is primarily a novel of family and characters, but I found it difficult to have any sympathy or empathy with most of them, particuarly the selfish and often nasty father, Charles; and elder daughter Julia who was made out to be some sort of angel who everyone couldn't help but love - whereas in fact she came across as rather uptight, pretentious and martyr-ish.

Stylistically, it is a well-written novel, absorbing and hard to put down. It isn't a disappointing read, but upon relfection you may find yourself wondering what the point of it really is.
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on 1 October 2004
One critic said this was the English Aga Saga re-written. I think it is true that it takes the elements of the middle class novel and turns them into a powerful, moving, contemporary novel.
The family's golden girl, Juliet, has been released from prison
in NY state after an art theft, and is returning to England, where her family await her with a mixture of longing and nervousness. Cartright has explored from the point of view of all five family members this event. It is stunning and moving. If there is nothing else you read this year, read this and see what the critics are raving about.
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VINE VOICEon 7 February 2010
I'm amazed at how polarised the reviews are on this page. I found Cartwright a very genial companion, his prose is so intelligent, light, witty and astute. I know characters like the ones in the novel. It's upper middle-class England, slightly vacuous, well-meaning and confused. It has some intriguing observations on justice, late-middle age, sexuality and class.

The narrative style struck me as very modern, and rather well-done. It's not heavyweight, but the digressions were educational, and it had something to say about how we think and feel in the C21. I'll be looking out for more Cartwright.
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VINE VOICEon 31 October 2009
In The Promise of Happiness Charles Judd surely utters the best line in contemporary fiction. It's worth waiting for. And that's without his priceless description of Mexican food.

On coming across a couple of the poor reviews here I admit to being rather baffled. To be sure, this isn't a gripping book, just as most dysfunctional families can't exactly be described as gripping, but for me this novel was as exciting as a French kiss. We become so immersed in the Judd family that in the end our minds become steeped in the very essence of each one of them.

On the other hand, I'm also baffled (but hey, who am I) by those reviewers who said that they couldn't put the book down. Not because I don't share their enthusiastic sentiments but because each chapter is told from the point of view of just one character. This to me is a huge strength but could it also be the novel's weakness? I'm not sure, but I found it impossible to read more than one chapter at a time, just as I find it impossible to listen to all 24 of the Rachmaninov Preludes in one go - though of course each is brilliant on its own. Still, in this case it just means that one can savour this beautiful book all the longer.

I noticed that Justin Cartwright has two sons, though no daughter. All the more remarkable then (okay, perhaps not) that he manages to portray the Judds' daughter, Ju Ju, with such vivid and complex authenticity; some of the scenes with her brother are simply electrifying. But then every member of the Judd family gets to have their big moment (though it could even argued that the entire novel is a collection of Judd family big moments). Me, I couldn't get enough of them.

If there's one minor disappointment - though call me a Philistine - it's that Cartwright chooses to lecture us, through Ju Ju, rather too fulsomely on the minutiae of Tiffany windows, something that completely fails to ignite my interest. I guess you had to be there. These (and alas, there are more than one) are the only boring passages in the entire book. But then everybody's allowed to be boring every now and again so Ju Ju is to be easily forgiven. And if I ever had what would be the intense pleasure of reading a further 300 pages about the Judd family I'd of course forgive her all over again.
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