I’ve spoken about happiness and making the world a better place before on this blog. But it was after writing that post, dear readers, that I began to think about the most common reference point for people in search of the more, shall we say, elusive elements of life: the ‘self-help’ book.
It’s a genre of the book world only rivalled by children’s books in terms of yearly sales, revenue and exposure. I’ve read a couple of the most fêted of these in the course of my perusal over the past month or so. One of these was ‘Eat. Pray. Love’ – a somewhat syrupy, ‘well I could have told you that’ Oprah advocated tome that went onto become a box-office smashing movie starring Julia Roberts and which I swiftly returned to my library in frustration at how awful it was. To quote Phoebe from Friends, it was like ‘Santa Claus at Disneyland on Prozac. Getting laid.’
So Ihe other book, then, was the adventures of Hector. No, not the slightly psychedelic and gruff dog from 60’s kids TV who spied on his neighbours (pre-dating ‘Big Brother’ by about 40 years. I digress). Instead, he is the creation of François Lelord, whose books were originally published in French before being translated into English and becoming a hit, topping the New York Times bestseller list into the bargain.
Frustrated at suddenly being unable to answer the problems his clients face on a day to day basis, and on advice from a good friend of his at his office, Hector sets out on a round the world trip to try and trace what it really means to be happy, leaving his bewildered clients and the potential love of his life, Clara, behind. His ventures take him to China and Africa along the way, and he learns some startling lessons that surprise even him.
Namely, he sees the less pleasant side of happiness and human beings’ unending quest for it in the modern world. An odd proposition you may think, but what Lelord does so cleverly here, due to the structure of the book – short, segmented chapters that read like short stories but that do ultimately follow a story arc of their own – is to make you forget that you’re reading, in essence, a ‘self-help’ book, and you’re so much more enlightened for it without feeling like you’ve just been cheated out of £50.
You become engrossed completely in Hector’s journey, and learn things along the way with him without even realising it. Whilst it’s true to say some of the book gets a bit lost in translation – particularly when matters concerning drugs and sex come into the equation, and Lelord tries to impart comment on the matter with all the subtlety of Kylie Minogue in the Agent Provocateur adverts – it’s charmingly written, with a wonderfully mellifluous undertone throughout.
Two more books about Hector have been published, in which he searches for the elusiveness of love and time. I am going to be borrowing these as soon as I can and advise anyone to read the original book first. Like all great reads, Hector’s quest challenges him and the reader, to the point we are a part of that world. It’s a gift and character Lelord should be proud to have created.