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Hector and the Search for Happiness Paperback – Bargain Price, August 31, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
This trite debut follows a psychiatrist named Hector as he attempts to understand "what made people happy." At a crossroads professionally and personally, Hector resolves to take a trip, first landing in China, where he reconnects with an old friend and encounters Ying Li, with whom he spends a night. He also meets an old monk who offers a bit of happiness-related wisdom. Having suffered disappointment in his relations with Ying Li, Hector next heads to Africa, where he makes the acquaintance of a drug lord with a depressed wife, is kidnapped, and learns that "it's harder to be happy in a country run by bad people." Next up is the "big country where there were more psychiatrists than anywhere else in the world" and a meeting with a professor of "Happiness Studies." Lelord, a psychiatrist, writes in the simple prose you'd find in a children's book, and this stylistic choice quickly becomes irredeemably grating. Though the book is an international bestseller, it is far less a novel than a maudlin self-help guide that substitutes pat aphorisms for development.
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"Utterly charming...Hector and the Search for Happiness turns psychological research into a fast-paced, enchanting story. Lelord himself is a psychiatrist, and his interest in the human mind is infectious... Fans of Eat, Pray, Love and The Elegance of the Hedgehog won't want to miss this gem of a book."
-The Independent (London)
"Even the most aloof, the most detached reader will be won over by this book."
"A feel-good gem . . . Francois Lelord has created a 21st-century hero."
-Good Housekeeping (UK)
Top customer reviews
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What I liked: It asked some "big" questions in simple terms. Hector was realistic in his thought processes. He wasn't entirely likable, but no one is if you see all of their flaws.
What I didn't like: Very simplistic. I know that was the point, but I thought it would be take a more in depth look at philosophy. That was my hope, at least. It also spoke of all his travels as "far away lands." I'm assuming this was so all the places were more relate-able and so as not to offend any particular country. It seemed a little ridiculous in some parts, though. You could obviously tell when he was talking about Africa or China. Not simply saying it out loud irritated me a little. Hector was written to be the "every man," but that's a lot to try to fit into just one character. I would have liked to see more development in the other characters, though I know that was not the point.
I will be reading Hector and the Secrets of Love: A Novel at some point, though. I'm hoping it's at least as good as this one.
This book has a simple, whimsical format, as if it's a kids' story book, and even begins with 'Once upon a time.' The hero is written to come across as part shrewd intellectual and part innocent little boy. There are frequent asides in parentheses, such as (Hector was intelligent but not necessarily smart). Without mentioning specific philosophies, nationalities and religions, these are often plain through the context.
Hector jots impressions in a notebook. He learns that you must be careful when you ask people directly whether or not they're happy, because it often makes men laugh and women cry. He meets several people, including a monk in a Chinese monastery, who wonders why so many westerners are interested in his religion when they have so many old and perfectly good religions of their own. Toward the end, Hector's findings are summed up by a well-known happiness specialist in 'the country with the most psychiatrists', who tells Hector that during his travels, he managed to discover several of the most popular indicators, and then attempts to them put them together in a formula.
Although it's an easy-to-read companion to all the non-fiction happiness texts out there, I quickly grew tired of Hector's womanising tendency, and the way it's portrayed indulgently as his funny little weakness. He cheats on his long-time partner, Clara, repeatedly during his travels and doesn't stop to consider that his 'if it feels good, do it' habit may bring the opposite of happiness to others as well as himself. That's not the habit of a nice guy. It was written as if he's a little boy who wants to sample different sweets, while he's messing with people's lives. I think it was trying to be a bit too cute, and came off superficial.
Surely those parable-cum-novels have to be really carefully crafted to work. This is just another one with main themes being poked in our faces every minute, and not always tastefully. In spite of what the blurb says, I didn't think it was much like 'The Little Prince' or 'The Alchemist' at all.