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The Promise of Happiness
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The Promise of Happiness

3.3 of 5 stars 3.30  ·  rating details  ·  594 ratings  ·  73 reviews
A powerful elegy to the intimacies and idiocies of family, The Promise of Happiness tells the story of an apparently ordinary family on the cusp of an extraordinary moment: the return of the family's prodigal daughter, Juliet. Her release from an upstate New York prison throws the Judds, formerly of London but now scattered, back together.

For her father, Juliet's convicti...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published August 1st 2004)
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Gavin Smith
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
Susan
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
Kenny
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
Jay Phillips
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sally
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
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
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.
Zaki
I'm really happy to be done with this.
Annemieke Windt
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Cball
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
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
Fred
Good writer, excellent portrait of very-English family dynamics over a cathartic period...at times a bit Iris-Murdoch-lite. My only annoyance was with his less than great fact-checking/editorial backup...he wasn't fictionalizing, but got a lot of American details/historical names (Collis P. 'Huntingford' rather than Huntington, implying that the stadium dominates the center of Cornell's campus, which, because of the topography and actual center of balance of things, it DOESN'T, etc.) just wrong...more
Glenn Zorpette
It's beautifully written, and the plot is solid. The characters are well developed and interesting. At no point does it feel dull or false or lackadaisical. And yet it sometimes becomes a bit of a slog. There is nothing remotely resembling humour, ever, anywhere. That isn't in itself a problem, except much of the material is on the depressing side; it tells the story of a family enduring one big and several smaller crises. The bleakness becomes sort of wearying after a while. The book also struc...more
Skye
I have three issues with this novel:

1) Cartwright alternates between the points of view of the five family members and because of this I didn't feel connected to any of them.

2) The novel is written is present tense and although there is one twist at the end (which I will not reveal here), I didn't really see why it was necessary to use present tense.

3) The dialogue for two of the younger siblings (twenty somethings), is written realistically, but this means that every other phrase contains "like...more
S Whatman
This was such a disappointing book. I hate giving up on books and not finishing them, so I was determined to get to the end, but don't know why I bothered. I kept thinking that something ground-breaking was going to happen, but there was nothing. The relationships between family members were not at all credible and none of the characters was particularly likeable. I agree with another reviewer who mentioned the peculiar use of the first person every so often, but who was not a central narrator....more
Jill Moran
I am not good with the the middle classes nor the family saga.Father well drawn though.
Natalie Zirngast
Hmm. Not really my sort of thing. While the writing was impressive and the characters were well drawn, the whole thing was just a bit depressing. English social realism is, I guess, even if it's about the middle class. Also. I found the moral position of the author more conservative than I was expecting, despite the references to utilitarianism. The philosophy wasn't explored in enough depth to be really useful or convincing. And even the author acknowledges the cliche in the notion that a scarl...more
Suvi
Interesting, well written easy read and an enjoyable family drama. Read it in 3 days.
Sarah
I hated the language in this book. Absolutely hated it.
Kathleenmanley
This got a lot more interesting at the end. It should make for a great discussion as it doesn't seem to be crystal clear how everyone ends up. Characters truly are all despicable, and with the possible exception of the mother, doomed to be miserable!

Possible Plot Spoiler: The author made a strong suggestion of incest between the brother and sister. No one else in the book group wanted to "go there," but why did the author write it to suggest such a possibility?
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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...more
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