“Germaine Kiecke was a foundling, an orphan. Now she is a successful art academic who defines herself by her profession and prefers to experience the world through art and an augmented reality game called Happy Family. But when the artist Tom Hannah, the creative force behind the game, moves to Spain, surrounds himself with high walls, three large dogs, and a runaway who teaches him to think like a tree, his existential melt-down threatens all Germaine holds dear.”
Picking up Happy Family made me smile – the cover is a mix of beautiful bright colours so immediately catches the eye. We are introduced to Tom in the first few pages with a brief prologue then skip forward to 2021 where we meet Alta. She is an enigma: confident and clever but with an edge. Meeting her changes Tom.
The concept of Happy Family as a game is fascinating – a bit of a mix of The SIMS mixed with cutting edge technology to fully immerse the user. It’s in this game where Germaine finds escapism and comfort with virtual friends and “parents”. She is a fascinating character and I found that could identify with quite a lot of her thoughts and feelings. Throughout the course of the story we learn a lot about her with insights into her past and what makes her tick. She has a drive but also a vulnerability. Her world makes more sense and feels safer when it’s virtual.
There are so many clever aspects to this story. I particularly enjoyed reading about the somewhat eccentric Cubberleys: Charles, the professional bodily function mimic, and his long suffering wife Margot. I found myself chuckling along as I read and smiling an awful lot. I particularly enjoyed the similarities between Tuscan Fields and The Archers. The supporting cast provide some amusing subplots and I could imagine this playing out on a stage.
This is definitely a book which will put a smile upon your face whilst you read but will give you plenty to think about and reflect upon. There are a lot of interesting issues touched upon in a sensitive and amusing way. James has written a very clever book which I believe will appeal to a wide readership. I will be recommending highly to friends and family. In these testing times it is a book to bring cheer and fun!
Thank you to Unbound, James and Anne for a copy to read and review.