three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-ThePromiseOfHappinessJuliet Judd was always the exceptional one. So when a jail sentence halts JuJu’s successful career as an art dealer in New York, it reverberates back to her British home. Following a forced retirement, her parents, Charles and Daphne, have sequestered themselves in Trebetherick, a coastal Cornwall village. Her brother and sister still live in London; Charlie is cold-footed about his forthcoming wedding and on the cusp of Internet riches, while Sophie is involved with her married boss and fighting a cocaine habit. As JuJu makes her way home after her release from jail, the Judd family uses her ebbing crisis to come to terms with their own struggles.
Thomas Dunne. 320 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0312348800

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"There is an air of desperation that hangs over the novel, but Cartwright is always slyly sympathetic to his characters, and it’s almost impossible not to become engrossed by the Judds and to root for them to achieve some sort of redemption. … Cartwright does hint that perhaps they believe in each other only because they have so little else to cling to, yet their solidarity is touching nonetheless." Marjorie Kehe

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"With its themes of guilt and redemption The Promise of Happiness is a poignant and interesting novel. … Cartwright depicts expertly the way we will veer toward the augury of happiness like tulips bending toward the sun." Nora Seton

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"There is an old-fashioned Christian morality play half hidden beneath this witty family saga, for each of the Judds can be seen as worshiping false gods and being punished accordingly. … The savage irony and probing moral questioning nicely balance each other out, and as an exploration of contemporary Englishness—‘proud, ironic and ridiculous all at once’—it is unsurpassed." Tony Eprile

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel is studded with these delightful bonbons, but they never detract nor distract from the high purpose of the novel, which is to illuminate the workings, the bond, and the intimacy of a family faced with a crisis, trying to understand why and how it happened, trying to suss out how they all might recover from it—and from their own foibles." Valerie Ryan

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In 308 pages, Cartwright deftly leads us on countless twists and turns. This is the story of a family, a very good story that thankfully doesn’t make us pity this family who seems so pitiful at the outset." Janet Okoben

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Cartwright shifts from character to character, and from third person to first. This creates the sense of slipping in and out of the characters’ thoughts, but sometimes the shifts in tone ring false. Overall, the novel can be a bewildering mix of precise and insightful detail, and generic characterizations." Jessica Slater

Wall Street Journal 2 of 5 Stars
"[A] masterpiece it is not. … There is an abrupt, hurried quality to the novel as Mr. Cartwright moves from one ordeal to another, from one family member to the next, never really engaging with the complexities of the plot or plumbing the depths of the characters." Merle Rubin

Critical Summary

Winner of The Hawthornden Prize for Literature, The Promise of Happiness is not Justin Cartwright’s first brush with literary acclaim. He’s been short listed five times for the Whitbread Novel Award (which he won for Leading the Cheers), once for the MAN Booker Prize, and has received other prizes. That Cartwright remains little known Stateside, even though his name "is frequently mentioned alongside authors [in England] like Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Kazuo Ishiguro" (New York Times), is a cleft that should be mended by his latest work. Compared to McEwan’s Atonement and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, The Promise of Happiness is, at heart, a novel about the intricate emotional dynamics of families. Though a few reviewers pick at thin characterizations and a surfeit of narrators, even the detractors concur that Cartwright is an extremely talented writer who deserves a wider readership.

Also by the Author

Leading the Cheers (1999): In this dryly comic novel, successful London ad executive Dan Silas returns home to a small Michigan town for his 30-year high school reunion. In the process, his rose-colored glasses are removed: his high school sweetheart claims to have borne a daughter from their tryst—a child recently murdered by a local serial killer. And his best friend claims to be a reincarnated Native American. The past is not always what it seemed.