‘Happiness, as Such’ by Natalia Ginzburg – A Novel In Letters

‘Happiness, as Such’ by Natalia Ginzburg     (1973) – 162 pages         Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor


I suppose now, instead of an epistolary novel, a novel-in-letters, we will get novels-in-emails, perish the thought.

I remember it now as a happy day. It’s unfortunate that we rarely recognize the happy moments while we are living them. We usually only recognize them with the distance of time.”

Adriana’s son Michele has left Italy for England, and the only way for his mother Adriana and his sisters Angelica and Viola can communicate with him is through letters. The son Michele has left behind a pregnant young woman Mara. Michele might be the father, but Mara admits she also slept with several other men who could also be the father. (After all it is 1973.)

Adriana the mother writes to her son:

I sometimes think about how little time we’ve spent together, you and me, and how little we know each other. I think how specifically we pass judgment on each other. I think you’re a moron. But I don’t know you’re a moron. Maybe you’re secretly wise.”

Later, the mother writes, ”passing judgment on the intelligence of your own children is a tricky matter”.

Still later, the mother writes her son:

People who love you may be judgmental, but their vision is clear, merciful, and severe, and they can be rough, but it’s just healthy to face clarity, severity, and mercy.”

Michele writes to his sister Angelica that he has a machine gun hidden in his old room, and his sister must dispose of it. Angelica does so, throwing it in a lake.

Natalia Ginzburg was an Italian writer who was almost forgotten, but was somehow recovered due to the popularity of that other Italian writer Elena Ferrante. One special quality that Ginzburg has is that she can be sad and funny at the same time.

Somehow I just don’t think a novel-in-emails would have quite the same thoughtfulness or impact.


Grade:   B



3 responses to this post.

  1. Haha, I’m here to tell you that Aussie author Susan Johnson is ahead of the game: she published From Where I Fell in 2021, a really terrific novel about how two women ‘meet’ because of a wrongly addressed email, become friends, and then fall out — and it shows how the words in an email are not the same as those on a page as in epistolary novel. Because the entirely different style and speed of composition that we use in emails is ripe for misunderstandings!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      I’m not sure I would like to see all the somewhat stupid abbreviations people use in emails in a fictional novel or story. I suppose one could write a moving and poignant story using emails, but I would have to see it to believe it. 🙂



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