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The Promise of Happiness

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  789 Ratings  ·  93 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 convictio
ebook, 320 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published August 1st 2004)
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Community Reviews

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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

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
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
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
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.
Aug 10, 2016 Zaki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm really happy to be done with this.
Sergio GRANDE films
Nov 23, 2016 Sergio GRANDE films rated it it was ok
The prologue of this book reads thus:
"A man of sixty-eight is standing on a Cornish beach, peeing on small molluscs.

A woman of sixty-four is trying to fillet a mackerel in a low, dark kitchen in a lime-washed and slate-roofed house.

A girl of twenty-three is standing on the set of a commercial in a studio in Shepperton, near London.

A man of twenty-eight is hiring a car from Alamo Rentals, in Buffalo-Niagara, New York State.

A woman of thirty-two is sitting on her bed, her things packed, in th
Aug 04, 2016 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Alan Hughes
Aug 07, 2012 Alan Hughes rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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

Jay Phillips
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Aug 03, 2016 Andrew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jayne Charles
Aug 06, 2011 Jayne Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2010 Lorraine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
May 09, 2010 Skye rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 09, 2011 Fred rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good writer, excellent portrait of very-English family dynamics over a cathartic 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
S Whatman
Mar 02, 2010 S Whatman rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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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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