There are books you enjoy and then forget. There's nothing wrong with that. Just move on and find another book to enjoy, then probably forget that one too. Much rarer is the experience of stumbling across a book that you know immediately will stick in the mind; a book that gets under the skin; a book that stands out from the crowd; a book you might even find time to come back to and read again one day. "Happiness is Wasted on Me" by Kirkland Ciccone is one of those rare creatures. It's a book that, quite frankly, I'd probably not have read if I'd not agreed to review it. It's a book I'm glad I read and one I know I will remember for all the right reasons.
The book is set in Cumbernauld during the 90s. The author's own description of it is hard to beat. "It’s a coming of age tale set across ten years. It takes in the grunge era, Britpop, New Labour, the Spice Girls, and 9/11 – but it also has those essential moments of real life, how it was back in that decade. It’s a mystery story and a family saga. I've always had a horror of being filed, categorised, stamped, or classified and this book is indicative of that mindset. 'Happiness Is Wasted On Me' blends a lot of genres but hopefully hangs together nicely. The main character starts off aged eleven and by the end of the novel he’s twenty-one, older and a little bit wiser. He’s asexual, which is something I don’t see much in fiction."
And so we meet Walter Wedgeworth, who is trying to find his place in the world: in his mind preferably in a part of the world that isn't called Cumbernauld. But a dark discovery and a remarkably dysfunctional family make life very hard. An older brother is taking ever more destructive excursions beyond the law, while two sisters are mainly interested in parties. Walter's father is a violent and controlling monster who is loathed by his kids and his wife; and just about anyone else he encounters. He is universally known by his nickname "Fishtank". Walter himself skips school whenever he can, preferring to devour the contents of Cumbernauld Library as a means of escaping the reality around him.
Kirkland Ciccone is best known as the author of a series of books for young people. "Happiness is Wasted on Me" is his first book intended for an adult audience - though his earlier books were often read by adults - and seems to mark something of a change of direction, for he is writing another. If it's half as good as "Happiness is Wasted on Me", he'll have done very well. This is a book we'd strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in wonderfully-written, offbeat, memorable fiction.