This Is Happiness

by Niall Williams

Hardcover, 2019

Call number




Bloomsbury Publishing (2019), 400 pages


"Change is coming to Faha, a small Irish parish that hasn't changed in a thousand years. For one thing, the rain is stopping. Nobody remembers when it started; rain on the western seaboard is a condition of living. But now - just as Father Coffey proclaims the coming of the electricity - the rain clouds are lifting. Seventeen-year-old Noel Crowe is idling in the unexpected sunshine when Christy makes his first entrance into Faha, bringing secrets he needs to atone for. Though he can't explain it, Noel knows right then: something has changed. As the people of Faha anticipate the endlessly procrastinated advent of the electricity, and Noel navigates his own coming-of-age and his falling in and out of love, Christy's past gradually comes to light, casting a new glow on a small world. Harking back to a simpler time, This Is Happiness is a tender portrait of a community - its idiosyncrasies and traditions, its paradoxes and kindnesses, its failures and triumphs - and a coming-of-age tale like no other. Luminous and lyrical, yet anchored by roots running deep into the earthy and everyday, it is about the power of stories: their invisible currents that run through all we do, writing and rewriting us, and the transforming light that they throw onto our world."--Publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

Rich in sentiment and humour, this evocation of an Irish village in the 1970s examines grief, faith and first love....It takes time for Niall Williams to convince you that tourist fodder isn’t what he’s producing in This Is Happiness...The pleasure of this novel lies in its eye for detail. The
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plot, having been established, then takes a long time to do not very much more..... He has a humorist’s eye, and his own fond amusement at the people he writes about shines out through the writing. The fields of Ireland are very crowded, but by the conclusion of This Is Happiness, you feel Williams has justified adding another book to the herd.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member kimkimkim
I loved this book: all the words; all the images; the ageless allure of the coast of Kerry; approaching the matter the Fahean way, by coming at the thing the long way round; the day the rain started; the day the rain stopped, eccentricity being the norm. I LOVED THIS BOOK. “O now!”
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
During a mid-century spring marked by unprecedented sunshine, things are changing in the wee village of Faha, County Clare. The electricity is coming in, and the Crowes are on the telephone now. Young Noel Crowe has abandoned Dublin as well as his seminary studies and is struggling to find himself
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in his grandparents' rural outpost. "Faha was no more nor less than any other place. If you could find it, you'd be on your way somewhere else."

Often accompanied on a rickety bicycle by his grandmother's boarder Christy, an agent of the electric company, Noel spends many evenings seeking the music of a wandering fiddle player widely touted as the finest that ever bowed a string. "Once he heard a tune it never left him...In time Junior Crehan carried so much music in him he became a one-man whose playing was the playing of all those before him on into the mists of the long ago."

Love is in the air, but having trouble finding where to settle. Noel falls, in rapid sequence, for each of the three daughters of the local doctor, simultaneously attempting to mend a decades-old rift between his new friend Christy and the woman he left at the altar.

The novel proceeds at the unhasty pace of a one-horse buggy, and you seriously need to slow down and let it do so. In the hands of an Irish master, the English language sheds all its Anglo-Saxon clunkery, and becomes the music you didn't know you were seeking yourself.

"You live long enough you understand prayers can be answered on a different frequency than the one you were listening for. We all have to find a story to live by and live inside, or we couldn't endure the certainty of suffering. That's how it seems to me."

Give yourself a gift; read this one without giving a thought to when you will finish or what you will read next.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Told by an aged narrator looking back on his youth, this is what I would call a well-written "sweet" book. Noah "Noe" Crowe left the seminary after a crisis of faith but comes to live with his grandparents in a very small village in Ireland. His grandparents also take in a boarder, Christy, who is
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working for the company that is bringing electricity to the village; Christy also has a deep secret that he has come to atone.

There was much of this book that I loved -- almost brought tears in places -- and then at times, the writing just seemed too much of a good thing. The characterization of the grandparents, Doady and Ganga, were well drawn; the other characters in the community provided great support characters.

Christy's remorse involves the widowed wife of the town chemist. Noe somehow manages to find himself slowly learning the story and seeing it from young eyes is much different than seeing it from the narrator as an old man.

Overall, I really liked the book. Had to rush somewhat to finish it so that might has had an impact. I would definitely read more by the author. There were some sentences I actually wanted to write and keep.
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LibraryThing member Romonko
This is a gorgeous book in every respect. My only reservation is that I chose to listen to this book rather than to read it. Listening is a pretty good way to enjoy a book usually, but for a book that has beautiful language and prose like this one does, listening somewhat lessens the impact and the
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enjoyment. But even so, I truly enjoyed the story. The book is set in the 1950's in a little village in Ireland called Faha = a little village that hasn't changed for a thousand years. The story is told from the viewpoint of a a 17-year-old boy by name of Noel Crowe who has been sent to live with his grandparents whom he calls Ganga and Dody. Not only is this book beautifully written, Williams has created some truly unforgettable characters. We follow Noel as he grows to adulthood surrounded by the love of his grandparents, and with the help of a stranger who has come to town to help install electricity in the village. Christie lives in his grandparents house and Noel comes to love and revere him. Christie is an enigma, but his mysteriousness is slowly explained throughout the book. As Noel discovers more of Christie's past, he is learning his own life lessons at the same time. The book's impetus is the whole process of getting the electricity up and running in Faha, and the story ebbs and flows around this. The pace is slow and leisurely just as life in Faha is, but even with this slow pace we learn so much about Noel, his grandparents, Christie, and the other marvellous people in Faha. Dermot Crowley does a marvellous job of narrating this book, and he made it come to life for me. I highly recommend this book, but would suggest to read it rather then listen to it so you don't take a chance on missing any of the beautiful prose. you won't regret the time spent getting to know Noel and Faha.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
After deciding to leave the seminary, Noel comes to the small Irish town of Faha to live with his grandparents. At just seventeen Noe, as he is called, is trying to find his way in the world while coping with loss. The story is told by a much older Noe, reflecting on a formative period in his
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Noe’s grandparents provide just the security he needs, and their new lodger Christy takes Noe under his wing as well. Christy is in Faha as part of a crew preparing the area for electrical service, but he also has a secret objective to reconnect with a woman he was once romantically involved with. Once Noe discovers this, he does what he can to bring about their reunion while also experiencing his own share of mishaps and encounters with the opposite sex.

This novel is beautifully written. Noe’s story made me smile and laugh occasionally; Christy’s brought tears to my eyes, and his lasting impact on Noe was heartwarming. Niall Williams paints a vivid picture of life in rural Ireland with beautiful prose that makes you want to read everything he’s ever written.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
Williams gives us a loving glimpse into everyday life in an isolated Irish village during a brief period in the late 1950’s. He uses this setting to highlight our shared human condition and to ponder some bigger questions including: What is the impact of change on people and communities? How do
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religion, stories, and music act to sustain people and communities? And especially, as the title suggests, what constitutes real happiness?

The narrator is Noel Crowe (Noe), a 78-year-old man fondly reminiscing about a Spring during his youth when he lived with his grandparents in the village of Faha. This is a place where it rains a lot, but during this time Faha is having a spell of freakishly good weather. The people colorfully refer to this as “Spanishing the air.” At 17, the pubescent Noe is coming-of-age and struggling with his faith, the meaning of manhood, his awakening sexuality, and the recent death of his mother.

Christy McMahon is lodging with Noe’s grandparents while working to connect the village to the national electric grid. He likewise is struggling with his own demons. In Christy’s case, it is a perceived need to repair harm he may have caused to Annie Mooney, when he left her waiting at the altar 50 years earlier to explore the world. Annie is the widow of Faha’s pharmacist.

Noe and Christy spend their spare time cycling the lanes around Faha stopping at neighborhood pubs to listen to local music and have a few drinks. During their time together, Christy entertains Noe with stories of his travels while serving as his mentor.

Williams gives us three plotlines in the novel. One is the long-overdue electrification project and how the community deals with the attendant inconveniences and the big changes that are soon to come. The second is Christy’s goal of repairing his relationship to Annie Mooney. And the third involves Noe’s romantic crushes on the three daughters of the village doctor. Williams embellishes these stories with plenty of local color and humor, especially Sunday masses at the Catholic church and make-out sessions at a local movie house. Also, he exquisitely characterizes many of the idiosyncratic inhabitants of the village. The most important of these being Noe’s grandparents—the ever-sunny Ganga (grandfather) and the dour Doady (grandmother).

Williams masterfully captures the nature of an octogenarian remembering events from his past by writing a beautiful, slow, and meandering narrative filled with sidetracks, personal opinions, and memories. This works extremely well when combined with well-drawn characters and multiple quotidian observations on the time and place.
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LibraryThing member lesleynicol
Started out to be quite interesting but then it became quite boring and I lost interest and did not finish it.
However, on reading the reviews by other readers, I think the fault could have been mine (I was not in a very good place at the time)
I intend to have another try at reading it.
LibraryThing member stevesmits
The sublime works of great composers often employ simple motifs, just a few notes, and with skill and subtlety delve deeply into the richness the motifs can yield. This wonderful book reminds me of that. There are a few themes that make up the novel -- a teenage boy struggling to find himself in
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life and love, an older man on a quest to gain forgiveness from a women he wronged 50 years before, and a rural culture in a small village in the west of Ireland and its impending thrust into modern life through electification.

Noel, or Noe, is the narrator, now an old man who, through time's lens of perception, is recounting his memories of being seventeen years-old. He had come from Dublin to Faha in county Clare to live with his grandparents after the death of his mother and abandoning seminary. Christy is a sort of wanderer who, after being away from Ireland for decades, arrives in Faha to work on the electrification project. Noe's grandparents, Doady and Ganga, are archtypical examples of the inhabitants of the small Irish village -- kind, knowing and comfortable in the way things have always been. The widow Mrs. Gaffney, nee Annie Mooney, had been abandoned at the altar decades earlier by Christy who is now trying gain her forgiveness and, improbably, rekindle her affection. The author's portrayal of minor characters in the village is marvelous.

Noe becomes close to Christy and, learning of his quest for Annie, attempts clumsily to build an opening for him to her. Christy has no chance with Annie, but at the end they connect warmly, sharing their memories and how life for them has played out over their many years apart. Noe falls in love with the three beautiful sisters of the local doctor who, he knows, are in a class far above his. The people of the village welcome the prospect of electricity, but can see how their traditions and culture will be lost after the event.

The writing is magnificient. It is the sort of prose where you find yourself reading sentences and paragraphs over and over and aloud to whoever's in the room. The words do evoke the feeling that passages in great music inspires in the careful listener.
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LibraryThing member PaintGirl
Love the language, bogs down a bit with Noe’s romantic adventures, beautiful conclusion
LibraryThing member librarygeek33
Takes the reader to another time and place. The writing is like poetry, although it takes a little getting used to. I'm not Irish and I was laughing out loud. I imagine people more in the know would even appreciate the humor more. Makes me want to read his other books.
LibraryThing member jphamilton
I like books by Niall Williams, as he always writes beautiful lines, but with This is Happiness, those lines didn’t make a story that ever really worked for, or connected with me. The parts were better than the whole. The last half of the book was a story around the electrification of Ireland,
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the old people that live there then, and the main character’s infatuation with the three daughters of the local doctor. The story was of a simpler time, when people lived more isolated, but were also more connected to their local community. Great feel, great color, but it all left me wanting. So, I’ll leave you with some of those lines that jumped out at me.

“I came to understand him to mean you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments of your life, stop for one heartbeat and, no matter what the state of your head or heart, say This is happiness, because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it.”

“Rain in Clare chose intercourse with wind, all kinds, without discrimination.”

“The fact is, I did not appreciate until much later in my own life what subterfuge and sacrifice it took to be independent and undefeated by the pressures of reality.”

“I know I was each day singed some more by the terrible knowledge that I could not truly help her, that she was dying in the same slow way most people die, minute by minute and day by day.”

“We all have to find a story to live by and live inside, or we couldn’t endure the certainty of suffering.”

I love to read a book’s acknowledgements page, as I’m always curious about how people write about their loved ones.
“And lastly, to Christine Breen, the beginning and end of everything.”
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LibraryThing member Iudita
Almost every sentence in this book was notable. It was a beautifully written, gentle story filled with warm humour and tender moments. Better suited to those who appreciate character and setting over plot. It was a lovely and memorable reading experience.
LibraryThing member LynnB
Absolutely beautiful writing!!!

This book is, on the surface, about change: "the electricity" is coming to a small town in Ireland; Noe, at 17, has left the seminary and falls in love for the first time; Christy is nearing 70 and trying to correct past wrongs. Mostly, though, this book is a
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testament to the power of storytelling. Noe learns from Christy's stories. Those same stories allow a severed connection to rekindle. And the reader, too, gets lost in the storytelling. A calm, gentle, but powerful story.
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LibraryThing member sblock
I wish I could give this six stars. Will read again.
LibraryThing member tangledthread
During Holy Week of 1958 three events launch change that will forever change the west country town of Faha in Ireland. The ever present rain has stopped. Seventeen year old Noe Crowe has arrived to live with his grandparents after leaving the seminary in order to discover what it is to live a
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meaningful life. And electricity is coming to Faha.

This is both a coming of age story for Noe, as well as a story about community and redemption. It is Irish prose that is circuitous, and compassionate to the characters. There is a story of redemption for Christy, a man in his 60's who is intent on making amends for the wrongs in his past, including leaving a bride at the altar. And the arrival of electricity is a metaphor for the current of love the runs through Faha.

I don't think the style of writing will appeal to everyone. But if you like good Irish literature, here's a story for you.
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LibraryThing member DonnaMarieMerritt
"O, now!" One of the most pleasurable books I've read in some time. Set in Ireland in the mid 20th century in a town without electricity, Faha has an electricity all its own in the narrator's storytelling. Read it slowly to savor the language and the subtle (at times, laugh-out-loud) humor.
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Happiness is reading this book and reflecting on the insights of an old man.

Copyediting quibble. Most of the time references to the town are spelled Fahaean, but in three or four spots, it was Fahean.
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LibraryThing member m.belljackson
HAPPINESS offers an enjoyable slow moving plot until the nose thing -
thereafter, just skimmed to the end.
LibraryThing member dinahmine
This is Happiness is my idea of a perfect novel - small town life and a coming of age story, with gorgeous writing and wonderful characters. I felt transported through Williams’ writing, both with the incredible world-building (you can feel the history of Faha) and through Noe’s character (it
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reminded me what it felt like to be young and insecure). I underlined so many passages and took so many notes - I can absolutely see myself coming back to this novel again and again.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
This is a beautifully written book, with dense, creative, and descriptive language. The language was so beautiful that I sometimes missed the plot, which was special as well. It took a lot of concentration to read this and a quiet space to read.

The plot revolves around a small town in Ireland
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where the rain stops and electricity comes. With it, an older man named Christy shows up in town and befriends a young man, Noe. It's slowly revealed that Christy has come to Faha to make amends with a woman that he left at the altar decades ago. At the same time, Noe, who lives with his grandparents, is coming into adulthood. He's struggling with his feelings about the church, falling in love, and remembering the death of his mother.

I really loved this novel and will read more by Niall Williams when I am in the mood for a book that is insightful, beautifully written, and a bit slower paced.

"... I came to understand him to mean you could stop at, not all, but most of the moments of your life, stop for one heartbeat and, no matter what the state of your head or heart, say This is Happiness, because of the simple truth that you were alive to say it."
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
No one remembers when the rain began in Faha, but now it is stopping. This small Irish community
is also on the brink of something new - electricity.
The story is told by Noel Crowe, a 17 year old who is entranced by Christy and his story of love and loss. After meeting Christy, Noel also falls in
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and out of love.
This is a wonderful story and I enjoyed every moment of it.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
Three intertwined stories from the West of Ireland in 1958, remembered by Noel Crowe about sixty years later:
• A coming of age story of Noe, who at seventeen has lost his Catholic faith and perhaps gains an idea of love;
• A looking for forgiveness by Christy McMahon from the woman who he left
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at the altar fifty years earlier; and
• A search to hear an Irish musician, Junior Crehan, play.

These stories are told against a time of unusually sunny weather and the coming of electricity to the neighbourhood. And these stories themselves are often told by the use of further explanatory or illustrative stories.

I really enjoyed this gently meandering book, which reminded me of Sebastian Barry’s Annie Dunne and Claire Keegan’s Foster, and although perhaps it didn’t provide the luminous epiphanies of those books, it was soul warming.
The language is wonderful and rhythmic, but does wander with the stories.

One of the things about Irish music is how one tune can enter another. You can begin with one reel, and with no clear intention of where you will be going after that, but halfway through it will sort of call up the next so that one reel becomes another and another after that, and unlike the clear-edged definitions of songs, the music keeps linking, making this sound-map even as it travels it, so player and listener are taken away and time and space are defeated. You’re in an elsewhere. Something like that.
Which, I suppose, is both my method and aim in telling this story too.
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Irish Book Award (Nominee — Novel — 2019)




163557420X / 9781635574203
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