Observer Review: Happiness TM By Will Ferguson Essay, Research Paper
Happy now?Happiness TMWill FergusonCanongate ?9.99, pp320Edwin Vincent de Valu, sharp-tongued, disaffected junior editor at Panderic Publishers, one day picks out an astonishing manuscript from the slush pile: a self-help manual that actually works. Atrociously written, covered in sticky labels of daisies, and more than 1,000 pages long, within months of publication What I Learned On the Mountain, by the mysterious Rajee Tupak Soiree, replaces every other book in the shops, and the world comes to a halt.Tobacco companies, drug cartels, fast-food chains, arms manufacturers, fashion houses, detox clinics, the stock market itself – all the industries trading in neurosis and greed collapse. Edwin’s wife stops asking if she’s fat, steals everything he owns and flies off to sleep with Mr Soiree. Multinational executives vanish into the country leaving behind the ‘life-realigning’ message: ‘Gone fishin’. The corner stall starts selling hugs.It’s a lovely, sprightly idea. Happiness TM, Will Ferguson’s first novel, even reveals some of the self-help solutions that Soiree has invented. To become a millionaire in less than a week, invest a small sum in short-term T-bills on a convertible blue-chip bond, set up a cascade account, reinvest the principal and cash out in mid-cycle. Then move the capital from East Coast to West Coast as frequently as possible to exploit the three-hour time difference. Better sex uses the Li Bok technique (a pair of points, one among the ribs, the other on the inner thigh): the result is multiple, mutual orgasms.Panderic, now wealthier than many medium-sized countries, takes out a patent on the word ‘happiness’. Edwin, however, belongs to the three per cent who are immune. His wife departed, his money seized and his mistress mesmerised, he joins with his boss, Mr Mead (’the perfect Baby Boomer emblem, combining as it did “me” and “need”‘) and a louse known as Mr Ethics (author of Seven Habits of Highly Ethical People, now on the run for tax-dodging and murder) and sets out to put the world back to rights.When Ferguson is good, he can be very funny, but he occasionally loses his rhythm badly because he can’t control his urge to force a point home. It takes 120 pages to get What I Learned On the Mountain to the printers, when it could have been done in 50; in the second half there are so many earnest speeches about the benefits of real life – life with sadness, life with faults and foibles – that one almost wants to go on a diet of alfalfa sprouts and soya out of spite. And it would be an easy thing to circle Ferguson’s pet dislikes with a pen: fancy coffee toppings, gun laws, cat lovers, pompous authors. In each case, he drops his finesse and starts piling on the irony with a digger truck.It was Panderic that first published The Name of the Tulip by a ‘middle-aged mathematician turned semiotician’ who had swept into Panderic’s office, thrown down his hefty manuscript and pronounced his work to be the height of ‘postmodern hyper-authenticity’. He then flung himself from the room and into a full-time career as an aphorist and keynote speaker ($500 an aphorism, $6,000 a note). You can almost feel Ferguson’s grin of satisfaction at having completed the assault: ‘Hold your head up now, Umberto baby!’For me, however, the most disturbing passage of Happiness TM comes in the first chapter, when Edwin de Valu is searching through the awful manuscripts in the Panderic slush pile. To my horror, a couple of the spoof proposals are similar to ones that I have sent to publishers myself.