Off the Shelf: This is Happiness

Off the Shelf: THIS IS HAPPINESS By Niall Williams

ISBN: HB 978-1-63557-4203 380 pp. 2019
Review by Terry Kenneally

Noe (Noel) is a seventy-eight year old man looking back roughly sixty years to the Spring of 1958, when he dropped out of the seminary after his mother’s death, and full of fear and unprocessed grief, went to live with his grandparents, Ganga and Doady, in Faha, a village back in time in County Clare.

The backstory of the book is the electrification of rural Ireland in the 1950s. Yes, it is hard to believe in the year 2020, but electricity was only brought to rural Ireland around that time.

Noe ends up sharing a room at his grandparents with a man named Christy, who is laying cable in the village. Christy befriends Noe and acts as a mentor for him.  Christy’s real reason for coming to Faha is a woman named Annie Mooney. Half a century before he left her standing at the altar in a church in Kerry. Noe tries to unite Christy in some fashion with Annie.  

A tour of the town, which is full of pleasure; a travelling encyclopedia salesman; often comic descriptions of social intricacies of church and pub culture; and the chemist shop where Annie Mooney works, with its once flood-swollen and now lifted- in-place linoleum. Noe also deals with his own awkward attempts at connecting to the female sex, which is not easy for him.

Williams is a master of Irish storytelling, crafting sentences that temp the reader to double back and read again – a truly peerless wordsmith. The author is master  at conveying the intricacies of Irish culture both in character , history and tradition. One of William’s previous books, History of Rain was Man Booker Prize Long-listed. This is Happiness is an enchanting novel that this column rates as a TOP SHELF read.

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