So Happy It Hurts by Anneliese Mackintosh

Book Review by Ross McIndoe | 26 Jul 2017
Book title: So Happy It Hurts
Author: Anneliese Mackintosh

Roping together Ottila McGregor’s struggle to quit alcohol, recover from her father’s death, support her mentally ill sister and form a relationship which isn’t totally self-destructive, So Happy It Hurts is all about trying. Trying to be happy. Trying to be healthy. Trying to be kind. Trying to be better.  

You try, you fail, you try again and fail again better. In another author’s hands this might have strayed into vapid, 'uplifiting' self-help territory – think Drink. Pray. Love – but Mackintosh’s sharp humour is quick to cut down anything approaching saccharine, with Ottila writing her own sarcastic rebuttals to the lame advice prescribed by therapists and waiting room literature. The novel balances irony and earnestness perfectly, offering both a heartbreakingly sincere quest for happiness and an acerbic intolerance of hollow quick-fixes.

Told through a scrapbook of letters, emails, Snapchats, therapy transcripts and text messages, Mackintosh builds a novel out of the language we actually use day to day. More than anything though, her characters bring it to life. Maybe it’s the intimacy of revealing them through their private messages, maybe it’s just how powerfully Mackintosh draws them and what they mean to Ottila, but the effect is so strong and the threat of some new catastrophe so tangible that each page turn feels like a horrible gamble with these people’s lives. When it hurts, it really fucking hurts. But when it’s happy, Anneliese Mackintosh’s latest work is positively radiant. [Ross McIndoe]

Out now, published by Vintage, RRP £14.99