Part essay on existentialism and defining art, part sci-fi exploration of the future of gaming and – occasionally – part farce, James Ellis’s Happy Family is as enjoyably thought-provoking a read as I’ve had for a while. The author skips easily between deft description of the real and augmented reality worlds. Most of the real-world action takes place in Galicia in the North of Spain and if the author hasn’t been there it’s a miracle of imagination, instead of just high-quality writing, the sense of place is so firmly nailed on.
Happy Family is complex, with meaty themes including grief and how to deal with it, the nature of being – “are we what we are, or what we do?” – and the big ones, what is art and who does it belong to? It is a mark of the author’s sure touch that we don’t feel lectured by any of the characters in the novel.
If this weren’t enough, the central character, Germaine, is an accurate depiction of a survivor of hideous abuse and the damage it can do.
The petty but savage rivalry of two niche actors provides a leavening of humour and I’m sure I won’t be alone in hearing The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s classic ‘My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies’, whenever Charles appears.
This is a quality book and I much prefer books like this – say – to the best-seller about two extremely shallow friends-with-benefits currently being dramatised on the BBC.
So, bravo James Ellis – and bravo Unbound, yet again.