On My Bookshelf
Published on Monday, March 28, 2011 - 12:00pm
“Once upon a time there was a young psychiatrist named Hector who was not very satisfied with himself…And so he decided to take a trip around the world, and everywhere he went he would try to understand what made people happy or unhappy.”
Thus begins the tale of Hector, a young French psychiatrist (modeled after the novel’s author, famed French psychiatrist and self-help book author Francois Lelord) whose mission to find out what makes people happy in life is at the center of Lelord’s novel, Hector and the Search for Happiness (published in France as Le Voyage d’Hector ou la recherché du bonheur in 2002, and translated into English in 2010).
After having grown tired of dealing with his patients—some of whom are not as ill as they are dissatisfied with the direction that their lives have taken—Hector journeys across the globe (to China, Africa and a nation known as “the big country where there are more psychiatrists than anywhere else in the world”…i.e., the United States). While “on holiday,” Hector reunites with old friends and meets a host of new ones as he engages them in conversations about what it is that makes them happy, and how they came to feel that way. During his adventures, Hector also parties hard and comes face-to-face with danger: aspects that help the novel, for all its didacticism, move right along.
I’ll be honest. When I first picked this novel up, I found it hard to start reading (and even harder to keep reading). Like many others with whom I have discussed Hector, I complained early on about what I understood to be the overly-simplistic prose style that Lelord chooses to utilize, as well as about how—in my opinion—the narrator becomes almost patronizing in some parts of the novel. (An example of this is where Lelord’s narrator states that “…there’s no point in telling you what Hector thought about next, because even if you’re not a psychiatrist you’ve no doubt guessed.” This happens quite a few times throughout the story.) As I kept reading, however, I found beauty in this story’s simplicity, and also in its tendency to portray Hector as a bit naïve about his relationships with people, yet wise beyond his years about other aspects of life.
I shudder to think about the fact that, had I stopped reading, I would have missed out on this powerful statement on the human condition and the effect that certain circumstances (illness, for example) have on how we view the world around us. My favorite stories are those that teach while entertaining, and despite its complexities (or lack thereof, depending on which side of the line of reviewers you fall), Hector does just that.
I can’t wait to read the next book in the Hector series, Hector and the Secrets of Love--due out later this year!
‘Til next time…