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Hector and the Search for Happiness (François Lelord)

November 8, 2010

This book was another random library find…and I’m really glad I found it! (For more on that and on my initial thoughts while beginning the novel, see my post about it on my personal blog.) It’s a cute little book, and Hector is a really fun character.

I’ll admit that I was surprised by its complexity, and by how happy this little volume made me. I think the phrase “deceptively simple” definitely applies here. I mean, when I read this book I was just following along thinking how cute it was and believing I was just enjoying the story…and then (dun-dun-daaaaaahn) I realized I was thinking about my own happiness as Hector explored other people’s happiness. This, of course, relates to Hector’s first lesson on happiness:

Lesson no. 1: Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.

However, since I tend to feel I come out on top with regards to such comparisons, it made me feel happier. Funny how that works, since I do have a lot less than many other people in this country of More we live in (I also love that part of the book…more on that soon!). But maybe that relates to one of Hector’s final lessons on happiness:

Lesson no. 20: Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.

I think this is an interesting point, and it gave me a lot to think of. Frankly, it reminds me of the idea that someone could need an “attitude adjustment” — an idea I find particularly interesting and entertaining. But also kind of true. There are those times that we see things differently and are able to “look on the sunny side” of the situation and (in a sense) decide to be happy when we could just as easily choose to be angry/upset/sad.

Okay, so about the country of More. When Hector meets Djamila on the airplane, Lelord uses the opportunity to sneak in a little commentary on America and its inhabitants:

They were both going to the big country where there were more psychiatrists than anywhere else in the world. Notice that we say ‘more psychiatrists than anywhere else in the world’ but we could just as well say more swimming pools, more Nobel prizewinners, more strategic bombers, more apple pies, more computers, more natural parks, more libraries, more cheerleaders, more serial killers, more newspapers, more racoons, more of many more things, because it was the country of More, and had been for a long time. No doubt because the people who lived there had left their own countries precisely because they wanted more, especially more freedom. (The only people who hadn’t got more freedom were the natives who already lived there, but, as previously mentioned, that was in the days when people who came from countries like Hector’s tended to think that everything belonged to them.) (107-8)

This passage absolutely tickled me. I just really loved the way the abstraction of the narration allowed Lelord to comment on America in a different way. It was a fresh approach, even though he’s leveling the same critique that many before and after him have done. But Lelord’s good at these kinds of passages. There’s another one that stands out to me, that just made me laugh, so I’m going to share it with you. It’s early in the novel, when Hector’s friend Édouard has taken him partying in a manner that doesn’t suit Hector’s personality:

Hector told himself that really Édouard was a bit like those friends who are excellent skiers. One day they take you to the top of a very steep ski slope and tell you you’ll have great fun if you just follow them. In fact they’ve only taken you up there because they are excellent skiers and love skiing down very steep slopes. And you don’t enjoy yourself at all trying to keep up with them, you’re scared, you fall over and you wish it would end, but you have to get down the slope anyway and you have a miserable time while those morons, your friends, fly over the moguls shrieking with joy. (34)

I don’t know quite why I love that one so much, except that I know the feeling of being on top of that slope (even if mine wasn’t nearly as steep as Hector’s appears to have been) and not enjoying the process of getting down, but knowing there’s no way around it now. So on that silly note, I’ll leave you with one last lesson Hector learned — a lesson that I intend to bear in mind the next time I move to a new place:

Lesson no. 19: The sun and the sea make everybody happy.

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