Book review: Pieces of Happiness by Anne Ostby

6 Jun

pieces of happinessI’ve planted my feet on Fijian earth and I intend to stay here until the last sunset . Why don’t you join me? Leave behind everything that didn’t work out!

When recently-widowed Kat writes to her four old school friends, inviting them to live with her on a cocoa plantation in the South Pacific, they swap icy pavements and TV dinners for a tropical breeze and an azure-blue ocean. Leaving behind loneliness, dead-end jobs and marriages that have gone sour, they settle into the Women’s House, surrounded by palms and cocoa trees; and locals with the puzzling habit of exploding into laughter for no discernible reason.

Each of the women has her issues to resolve, and secrets to keep. But together the friends find a new purpose, starting a business making chocolate: bittersweet, succulent pieces of happiness. As they embrace a new culture that views ageing so differently from their own, will they learn to accept and forgive: to discover the value of friendship, and a better way to live?

Pieces of Happiness is a beautiful look at female friendships, growing older and the healing powers of chocolate and sisterhood. I love stories like this and Anne Ostby’s second novel to be published in English is a brilliant example of its kind and sensitively translated. The book has just been released in hardback format with the gorgeously summery cover seen here.

The novel opens with a series of letters from Kat in Fiji to four of her best friends from her schooldays. Now in their sixties, it’s clear that there has been a lot of water under the bridge for the group of friends and Kat’s letters immediately had me intrigued about both author and recipients. The story develops beautifully, moving between past and present to delve into the secrets and worries of Kat’s friends now and how their lives brought them to this point. I loved looking back and meeting Sina, Ingrid, Lisbeth and Maya both now and as their younger selves and finding out what happened to them, seeing how their relationships and friendships changed over the years.

There’s a wonderfully hopeful message about the ability of friendships to endure and grow with you and the book beautifully captures the ability of special female friendships to survive all manner of bad and good weather and still fundamentally stay rooted. Each woman has her own set of worries and issues to address and the individual story lines in the present added interest and covered so many issues that are relevant to us all; getting older, ill health, worries about children, making time for ourselves and living up to our hopes and dreams.

Glamorous Lisbeth  has been living the high life since marrying the catch of the town but as we scratch beneath the surface we see that her fairy-tale is not as happily ever after as it sounds. Maya makes the journey to Fiji with a secret illness to face. Ingrid has had enough of being the sensible one and wants to let her alter ego, the wonderful ‘Wildred’ out and single parent Sina, struggling with her wayward son is broke and not sure how to move forward. Kat has recently lost the love of her life. I was captivated by the drawing together of the group and how their ‘house of women’ developed through the story.

Ostby adds a further layer to the story with shory chapters in the form of prayers from the point of view of her housekeeper Ateca. These chapters were just wonderful and gave a whole new perspective to the story and the characters. I loved being able to see each woman from the viewpoint of an outsider and I thought this technique and the different cultural filter that Ateca sees everything through gave the excellent depth and allowed me as a reader to really get to know the characters.

The descriptions of scenery and Fijian life are luscious, colourful and atmospheric – they made me want to pack my bags and seek out adventure. Regular readers will know that I have a bit of an obsession with the sea and I absolutely loved the descriptions of it in this book.

Sina can hear it. With her face turned towards the sea she can hear Fiji welcoming her. A rush of sand against sand, a rhythm of water and moonlight and promises she can’t decode.”

I highly recommend Pieces of Happiness as a thoughtful and uplifting reading escape this summer whether you’re heading off on holiday or curling up in a nice cosy reading spot at home!

4/5

Pieces of Happiness is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from Doubleday.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book.

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