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This is Happiness by Niall Williams

2019, Bloomsbury Publishing

Kat sent me this book after my father died, which touched my heart. Reading gave me somewhere to go no matter how I was feeling. Whether I was overwhelmed, sad, or just had too much to do, the book was always there to take me away, but not too far away; I found links to my Dad and wondered if Kat had chosen the book specifically. I think she just thought I would like it.

Kat, her friends Marilyn and Mary and Kelliebooks (Kb) had a “mini book group” discussion via email. Thanks for your participation!

1. Summarize This is Happiness.

Mary: One summer, a young man goes to live with his grandparents in rural Ireland. During that time, electricity arrives in the county, and the main character has his first experience of falling in love.

Marilyn: The book is about what makes us happy. The characters don’t know that they’re happy; they're just living simple, relational, hard-working lives. Their expectations are simple as well. There was little culture of complaint then….hardship had been part of history for so long it had become a condition of life. 84

Kb: This is Happiness is the story of an older man’s memories of growing up, in a rural Ireland that no longer exists, while learning about what love can be and what happiness can mean.

The narrator remembers a time where, in spite of hardship, certainty could be found in simplicity. I found (grandfather) up in the back meadow. He could be in that field, just standing and watching it, at any time, and you couldn’t say exactly what he was doing, and if you asked maybe he wouldn’t have been able to say, but the sight of him out there alone had a kind of sustenance in it and has remained with me as one of the certain good things in this life. 359

And it’s about stories. We all become stories in the end. 82

2. What is the main point of the book?

Mary: The meaning of happiness—also, how love comes to us and changes us. A minor point is the impact of modernization on a small community.

Marilyn: How happiness can be simple--based in relationship and routine, being needed and doing for others. Belonging somewhere. An occasional adventure.

The immemorial scent of grass growing, the coconut of gorse, and the profound, moving, if momentary sense of absolute well-being. 78

…you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments of your life, stop for one heartbeat and, no matter what the state of your head or heart, say "This is happiness," because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it. 284

Kb: The relationship between books and Life...

…the quality that makes any book, music, painting worthwhile is life, just that. (They) can never be as full, rich, complex, surprising or beautiful, but the best of them can catch an echo of…how astonishing life is…73

...and the reckoning with Death we all must face:

…it felt the way it does when you know you’re reading the last pages of a long book and you just need these final bits to complete the picture… 347

Then, as though he had the whole of the next chapter, as though it arrived entire in the depths of his eyes, Christy…went inside 348

3. What did you like best about the book?

Marilyn: The characters—their inner characters, inner lives and humor, and their lack of (or simple) expectations. I loved the friendship between the young man (protagonist) and the man who came into their lives (Christy).

Mary: I felt like I was living in Ireland for awhile.

Kat : I loved the simplicity and the idea that love drives us regardless of our age, this force inside us that keeps us feeling alive, and willing to do crazy or unusual things. I also loved the connection of the two men with music, the importance of music in the book, and the idea that not just professionals but everyday people are capable of making music and connecting to one another in that way. I remember the younger character left the priesthood which I think is a big deal in Irish culture. I am always drawn to hear more about a person’s spiritual crisis or journey. Also, the writing was unique.

Kb: Yes! I'll add to the above some quotes highlighting wit, language, and the potential comfort of Faith.

We sat on the train going nowhere. It continued going there for some time. 26

...the temporary ceiling (grandfather) had built forty years earlier… 317

Instead of simply getting drunk, the characters get their "brains banjaxed!"

Human beings are creations more profound than human beings can fathom….That’s one of the proofs of God…there’s no other explanation. 90

I was grateful then to have the prayers in me. There have been times throughout my life when I’ve felt…that because of my childhood and education the prayers were things available to me, and I suppose there are few lives that don’t encounter moments when all that is available is drawn down and clung to. 356

4. What didn’t you like?

Marilyn: Nothing.

Mary: I didn’t like when it ended!

Kat: I really liked it but at times it felt tedious and I lost track of the story.

Kb: I too was periodically puzzled by the lengthily long, meanderingly metaphored and apparently alliterated phrases I injudiciously judged inessential, until my error of severely sentencing sentences too soon was revealed by a significant sample signifying the Baroque style favored in Faha (the town) because it allowed for “the native precept to enjoy the music of telling, …and offered a truer reflection of life as lived in Faha.” 211

The (rather glorious) sample:

What followed in tumultuous fashion, a single sentence, quick-spoke and eye-popping and miraculous, bypassing both the principles of pauses and the mechanics of breath, my grandfather going for it…building a tower of description that was in constant danger of toppling over as more and more clauses were thrown on to it, adjectives and adverbs …similes not spared, propositions dangling…metaphors throw them on there…the perfect vocal diagram of the inner workings of my grandfather’s mind. 211

I especially liked:

Chapter 23, the young and the old and ideas about love

Chapter 27, different stages of love

Chapter 1 has only 4 words. Please comment below if you know of a shorter 1st chapter (include name of book and the words too since there won't be many)!


I was at times reminded of my parents:


… he hadn’t considered attaching blame, because he lived outside of the jurisdiction of all judgement and thought everyone was always doing their best… 214


When you try and lift your mother it’s not the same as lifting another human being. (The protagonist's mother was ill.) 278

I learned that whitewash = lime (no, I didn’t know!)

A character who reminded me of Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations gets her house whitewashed. 90, 177

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were always whitewashing fences and I had wondered how this was different from paint. Now I know.

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Mar 18, 2021

I really liked that line "We all become stories in the end."


Kat Becker
Kat Becker
Mar 11, 2021

This is Kat, of the famous Mary, Marilyn and Kellie bookgroup. I recommend this book to be read at a leisurely pace, many words packed into small space, but they certainly capture the life stories of the character.

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