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The Promise of Happiness

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  764 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
The Judds, formerly of London N1, now scattered, are about to be thrown together again by the eldest child Juliet's release from prison in New York. The family is devastated by Juliet's conviction for art theft. The nature of this theft and the reasons for it plague all the protagonists. For Charles, the father, it is challenge to his sense of rightness and proof of the di ...more
Paperback, 306 pages
Published 2005 by Bloomsbury (first published August 1st 2004)
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(showing 1-30)
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Gavin Smith
Jan 03, 2016 Gavin Smith rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, britain
The Promise of Happiness is a blandly irritating upper-middle class book that tells the blandly irritating upper-middle class story of a blandly irritating upper-middle class family. So much about this book falls flat that I almost don't know where to start. How about that the novel strives for a level of psychological realism but hinges on an event that is singularly unbelievable? Or maybe the fact that all of the radically different characters have the exact same inner voice? (Throwing in a 'l ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Winner of The Hawthornden Prize for Literature, The Promise of Happiness is not Justin Cartwright's first brush with literary acclaim. He's been short listed five times for the Whitbread Novel Award (which he won for Leading the Cheers), once for the MAN Booker Prize, and has received other prizes. That Cartwright remains little known Stateside, even though his name "is frequently mentioned alongside authors [in England] like Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Kazuo Ishiguro" (New York Times), is a cle

...more
Catherine Davison
Disappointing, Cartwright is often compared to Ian McEwan or Jonathan Franzen, in my opinion he's not in their league at all. This had the same introspective examination of the ordinariness of a British middle class family with all their angst and foibles but there was no tension. I didn't care for or about any of the characters. The dialogue was excruciating why did he have each young character say 'like' all the time? There was something odd going on with a shifting point of narration, intermi ...more
Susan
Aug 03, 2009 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just love it when I find a great new (to me) writer. Justin Cartwright's prose is eloquent, his plotting like following a familiar road map to unexpected places, and his characterizations well contrived.

The story bends around the central character of Juju Judd, convicted felon, beloved daughter, sister, lover. Her single act of mis-guided love has diverted the lives of her father and mother, brother and sister. But not entirely. Each one has managed to make questionable decisions all on his or
...more
Emily
Aug 25, 2016 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
More of a 3/12 stars, because there were aspects that I really appreciated. In particular, the meditations on cruelties and injustices in the US justice system: although Ju-Ju was an annoying character --why does everyone in the family think she's so amazing? -- and she is far from a moral beacon, she didn't deserve the harsh treatment she got. The writing is very good, and the characters are relatively distinctive, and I suppose I don't mind that I didn't particularly like any of them. I think ...more
Kenny
Aug 05, 2014 Kenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of the Judd family from the release of daughter Juliet from prison, a multiperspective novel of the impact her sentencing (for art theft) had on a very middle class family. The characters have the feeling of depth, and are usually convincing voices - although I found the attempts to give the youngest daughter "young-person-speech" by adding "like" grated - and sometimes felt misplaced, and I couldn't see the appeal in the American author. However, I thought there was skill in the drawi ...more
Mark
Aug 04, 2016 Mark rated it really liked it
The story opens with the sad solitary figure of Charles Judd walking along a beach in Cornwall, as he has done every day for the past four years. We don’t know the reason, yet, for his sadness and self imposed exile but as the narrative unfolds there are many clues embedded in the text for the reader to understand his predicament. He knows he is losing his vitality and is becoming preoccupied with the state of his marriage and the emotional void he is feeling. Daphne Judd, his wife, has stood by ...more
Mark Spyker
Jun 01, 2016 Mark Spyker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite some bad reviews, I would like to join those who found this book powerful, insightful, & absorbing! Cartwright unpacks many themes in the process of describing Ju Ju's return home to her family in the UK after a couple of years in an American prison, including insightful reflections through her characters on art, ethics, law, loyalty, aging, and the many complex undercurrents that develop over time in family life. While this is by no means a religious book, the fact that Ju Ju's 'the ...more
Jay Phillips
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sally
Mar 07, 2009 Sally rated it did not like it
This was truly awful – like being cornered at a party by a seedy old man with a tendency to repeat himself. He has five characters whose point of view he writes from, but they’re glove puppets and never come alive as real people, all spout his rather rancid and jaded world view. It’s not even well written either – he has a tin ear for dialogue and an odd habit of dropping meaninglessly into the first person at random points. Plot? He forgot to include one. Avoid at all costs!
Andrew
Jul 08, 2014 Andrew rated it did not like it
I don't mind a family saga or even tales of middle class angst especially if I can engage with the characters as in the novels of Patrick Gale and I don't think its an issue of liking the characters as I enjoyed 'saturday' by Ian McEwan and the main character was pretty unlikeable , and I even enjoyed The Red House by Mark haddon which had a unappealing bunch of people in it however I enjoyed their story but with this book I just couldn't care less what happened to this family, . The plot revolv ...more
Susan
Apr 26, 2008 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book--a crazy, dysfunctional family (yes, another one) but Cartwright is such a good writer that it is not formulaic. I need to read more by him--he's not well known in the States.
Henneli
Dec 17, 2015 Henneli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Power of Happiness is a brilliant, beautifully written and moving novel by Justin Cartwright that follows Tolstoy’s dictum that while all happy families are alike, an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.
This powerful portrayal of a shattered (and scattered) family caught up in events beyond their control is at times hilarious, sometimes despairing, but always rapier-sharp. It is subtle and sensitive, and was, for me, highly involving. It will strike a chord with anyone who has ev
...more
Zaki
Dec 22, 2013 Zaki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm really happy to be done with this.
Christine
Feb 13, 2016 Christine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
While the premise of this book is potentially interesting, the reality is sadly disappointing.
It centres on the Judd family, one of whose children, JuJu, has been in prison in the US for apparently selling a valuable Tiffany stained glass window that is believed to be stolen. The story, which oscillates between the present day, when JuJu is released from prison, and the reflections that each family member has around the time of her trial. Her father, Charles, is also reflecting on his life as h
...more
Cliff
Apr 28, 2015 Cliff rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
LOATHED this family, nothing in the writing made me want to even particularly understand the 'issues' they all had. The daughter was spoilt, the father a pain in the arse. The reviews led me to think I'd get inside a troubled family. If this was my family I'd foster myself out. Why couldn't the writer generate any sympathy for this upper-middle class collection of tosspots? Answer.: Because no one loves the smug English upper-middle class under any circumstance anyway. Can't wait for Cartwrights ...more
Annemieke Windt
Mar 05, 2012 Annemieke Windt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cover of my copy of The Promise of Happiness reminds me of the seventies, the colours, the figures and the lay out. But Justin Cartwright's book is definitely a contemporary novel. It had been on my wish list at Amazon for years until I finally decided to buy it late last year. A good decision I have to say.

There's an undertone of irony in the novel, which tells the story of the British Judd family who prepare themselves for the return of the prodigal daughter Juliet who had been in prison f
...more
Josh Ang
Jul 30, 2011 Josh Ang rated it liked it
This book promised to be a family pastoral, with all the requisite stock characters of a dysfunctional family...



You have the eldest daughter who was the apple of her father's eyes but lands in jail for an art theft; the ne'er do well son who is engaged to a European bombshell he is vaguely in love with, and who suddenly finds himself taking on the role of the responsible one in the family; the youngest and the runt of the family who fashions herself as a punkish Bridget Jones, with nose-ring and
...more
Ian Mapp
Now then - I'm not sure what to make of this - and that's a good thing. It took me 9 days to read a 300 page book, which indicates a struggle. And at times, it certainly was. But there is enough intelligence there to make it worth the read.

What I am not so sure of is it comes across as a little bit too clever for its own good. I still cannot tell what context the book was told in and at times who the narrator was.

The book tells the story of the Judd Family and their disappointments in life that
...more
Jayne Charles
Aug 06, 2011 Jayne Charles rated it really liked it
This was a great read, despite most of the action taking place in the past so the text was concerned with looking back and analysing, I fairly zipped through it. It’s a family based novel, concentrating on an ageing couple and their three grown up children, and the various unfortunate turns their lives have taken. Particularly good value is patriarch Charles, grumpy old curmudgeon and borderline Daily Mail reader that he is.

The prose is well sculpted throughout, managing to be both literary and
...more
Alan Hughes
Aug 07, 2012 Alan Hughes rated it liked it
Shelves: own, fiction
From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Cartwright's hilarious, despairing, rapier-sharp third book (Leading the Cheers) delivers a great deal of the absent titular emotion. The five members of the Judd family, reeling from a series of personal and professional blows, have each retreated into a private world. But the impending release of eldest daughter Juliet, an art historian incarcerated in an upstate New York prison for helping to sell stolen Tiffany windows, sets the plot—and the family—in

...more
Jenny Smith
I don't usually have strong feelings towards furniture, but I love my bookcase. I plan on buying a HUGE one when I finally settle down in a place! It lets me buy cheap novels on a whim, and save them for a rainy day. I actually acquired The Promise of Happiness when I did work experience at Bloomsbury Publishing 3 years ago, and I've only just gotten around to reading it!

One of those glorious books that is character rather than plot-led, TPOH revolves around the Judd family in the weeks leading
...more
Lorraine
Jun 07, 2010 Lorraine rated it it was ok
I have been struggling to know what to write in this review so I turned to other reviews to see what I agree/disagree with and then regurgitate it somehow. I usually prefer to write down my opinion first and then compare. Anyhoo...

I tend to agree with the reviews that appoint only 1 or 2 stars. I don't want to be too critical though because I was quite happy to pick up the book each night at bedtime, it was just that it didn't stir up any emotion. I think at least one of the individual stories
...more
Leonie
Jan 05, 2012 Leonie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Basically a less polished Joanna Trollope. The three stars are because it was very readable, and there were some moments when I thought Cartwright captured someone's emotional state well. There's plenty wrong with it, though. There's the character of Ju-Ju, who, just as I was wondering what was so fascinating about her that her own father and brother were quasi-incestuously in love with her, as far as I can make out, commits actual incest with her brother. You don't just drop incest between main ...more
Kat
Sep 25, 2011 Kat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book overall. The characters are well-drawn, and by the end of the book I felt as if I knew them pretty well. I liked some of them and disliked others, which I think is the mark of good characterisation - it reflects real life, in that you have different reactions to everyone you meet. I did think it tried to do too much in a fairly short novel, however. There were five different stories interweaving, really, and more time to any one of them would have been welcome. I felt there w ...more
Meera
May 10, 2014 Meera rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was a bit bored by this saga of a dysfunctional family, and the events catalysed by the return of the prodigal daughter home after being sent to prison. Although Justin Cartwright writes well, the characters in this book were hard to relate to, as they were all very self absorbed, so it made it difficult to care what happened to them.
Kathryn
I chose this book because some of it was located in Cornwall. It is about a strange, disfunctional family, and the problems that were created when one of the children went to jail. I recognized some of the scenes in Cornwall, and did find it interesting once I reached the end.
Cball
Nov 07, 2011 Cball rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction, 2011
Incredibly well written, subtle British humor, dysfunctional British family. What more can a girl ask for?

Ju-Ju (yes, Ju-Ju is a girl's name...only in England) is the star of the family and yet, she has committed a crime which breaks the hearts (and minds) of her family. As she returns, the prodigal daughter gathers her broken family together so they might continue on. But will anyone change in a positive way as a result of their two year trial?

This is one of those stories where you don't feel
...more
Ilya
Oct 21, 2012 Ilya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is almost indecently good, I am very sad to be done with it. No writer I can think of is better at inhabiting the minds of his characters, and really, capturing the way the humanoid thinks: the meandering, unconscious, and emotional paths we take in our minds, whatever it is we're actually physically doing at any one time.

Story follows a married couple and their adult children, one of whom is being released from a two-year prison term. the details don't really matter here, there is so
...more
Frances
Jul 05, 2016 Frances rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Took a few pages to understand narrative techniques and authorial style, but this book was amazing. So many truths about human frailty. At times I was reminded of the Lomans, but I enjoyed this book much more!!!
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Justin Cartwright (born 1945) is a British novelist.

Justin Cartwright
He was born in South Africa, where his father was the editor of the Rand Daily Mail newspaper, and was educated there, in the United States and at Trinity College, Oxford. Cartwright has worked in advertising and has directed documentaries, films and television commercials. He managed election broadcasts, first for the Liberal Pa
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