‘H(a)ppy’ by Nicola Barker – A New Age Social Media Dystopia


‘H(a)ppy’ by Nicola Barker   (2017) – 282 pages

‘H(a)ppy’ by Nicola Barker won the Goldsmiths Prize for “Fiction at its Most Novel”, a literary prize I particularly watch out for each year.  ‘H(a)ppy’ has been praised to the skies by reviewers in England, Scotland, and Ireland, yet I did not find even one notable review of the novel by a major United States reviewer. Appreciation for Barker in the United States still lags far behind her success in the British Isles.  At this point I would say that United States readers are too conservative and conventional to fully appreciate the wilder turns that Barker’s fiction takes.

About a decade ago, I was totally won over to Nicola Barker and her unique distinctly odd style of writing with her novel ‘Wide Open’.  At that time I recognized that Nicola Barker was a writer who was new and different yet still delightful, a writer to watch.

‘H(a)ppy’ takes place in a future where a confluence of social media rules everyone’s lives.  “The System” now protects and directs everyone with its “Path of Light”. Psychotropic drugs adjust personalities and advanced electronic devices monitor every thought and every act. Everyone keeps harmoniously “In Balance”. Our narrator Mira A. has almost totally bought into this New Path which is the new way of looking at things.  She says things like “I will not allow myself to regret this strange weakness, because regret is counterproductive.

The one trait in individuals that The System particularly watches out for and monitors for is an EOE, an Excess of Emotion.  Mira A. wants very much to fit into this System, but she also loves her music which can sometimes cause an EOE.

 “Don’t you think there might be a special kind of sadness that is almost a form of happiness?” 

‘H(a)ppy’ is somewhat self-centered and overwrought since it is concerned with only this one central character Mira A.  She wants to fit in and feels terrible that she can’t conform due to her love of music.  Her music makes it difficult for her to be one of the Young and perfected.  Just in terms of the story, it probably would have helped if Mira A. had had a sidekick she could talk to especially since Nicola Barker is usually so brilliant with dialogue.  As it is, I got a bit sick of all of the social media blather in ‘H(a)ppy’.

The text in ‘H(a)ppy’ is zany beyond belief.  Some of the words are different colors and there are experiments with the size of text, and there are a number of pages that have stuff on them that you could not possibly read (which makes the novel shorter than the 282 pages would indicate).  To me, all these experiments in text were more a distraction than anything else.


 Grade :  B+ 


7 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve got this book on my TBR so I’ll be back to read your review when I’ve read it myself:)

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Posted by Annabel (gaskella) on March 4, 2018 at 7:10 PM

    I’m a Barker fan despite only having read three of her books. I’m looking forward to this one.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Annabel,
      ‘Wide Open’ is still my Favorite. I’ve also read ‘Clear’ and ‘The Yips’ and now this one. Apparently the Goldsmiths people thought H(a)ppy was great and so did the British Isle reviewers.



      • Posted by Annabel (gaskella) on March 4, 2018 at 10:19 PM

        I’ve read her very first (eek – can’t remember the name now!) Clear (which I loved) and Burley Cross Postbox Theft (which was fun). I own all her books though and do intend to read them!



  3. Interesting… makes me think of The Circle, a little.



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