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The Temptation to Be Happy by Lorenzo Marone

Cesare is seventy-seven years old when we meet him, living alone in his apartment in Naples. His children have moved on with their lives. His son, Dante, is gay and everyone knows, except he hasn’t officially come out to Cesare. Sveva is a clearly unhappy lawyer, mother, and wife. His neighbors include the cat hoarder, Eleonora; his old co-worker, Marino; and the newly arrived Emma and her abusive husband. As The Temptation to Be Happy rolls on, we learn more about each and watch as Cesare is finally drawn into their problems as he comes out of his asocial shell—more out of irritation than altruism, because he can’t stand to see people keep screwing up their lives anymore.

This book is very much about happiness, but in ways that belie Tolstoy’s truism about happy and unhappy families. For a long time, Cesare chased happiness. He believes that a new job or a new lover would do the trick. It never did, so he fell back into his old job as an accountant and his family life. Nothing, he finally learned, could really make him happy so much as the little pleasures of life. The pages in which Cesare lists the things he likes at the end of the book are incredibly moving after the turmoil and sadness of the book up to that point. Nothing makes everyone happy. Everyone has their own individual joys in life; we just have to find them.

In addition to its lessons about the individual, occasionally selfish nature of the pursuit of happiness, The Temptation to Be Happy also has a lot to say about not wasting time on white lies, not speaking up for yourself, not tolerating rudeness, and accepting that we can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. This was a wise book, wrapped up in stories that feel emotionally honest to stop the whole thing from being mawkish or facile. I enjoyed it so much I just devoured the thing.

Main Quotes

She holds her hand out towards mine, but I instinctively draw back, before I’m gripped by a kind of remorse.
I like excluding myself. It makes me feel different.
that I was one of those stupid old men who, to keep from thinking of death, attach themselves to those who have a future ahead of them.
Many strict fathers turn into affectionate grandfathers. The opposite happened to me: I was born sweet and will die grumpy.
don’t hate people, it’s just that I’m too caught up with myself to attend to anyone else.
‘You’re not bad, you’re just an egoist.’ I’ve never agreed with that. An egoist is someone who pursues his own well-being at all costs, whereas I’ve never attained well-being. I’ve even failed as an egoist.
take the mick out of him something rotten,
He looks at me quizzically, even though he’s used to my strange outpourings by now.
Perhaps it’s true that life goes in a circle and at the end it comes back to its starting point; in an eighty-year-old man and a baby, if you look carefully enough, you risk spotting the same fears.
Classic Marino, doing things by halves. He probably left things unfinished when he was having sex as well. I bet that at school he was one of those boys who settled for satisfactory. He lacked the courage not to study, but at the same time it wasn’t important for him to know things; he just wanted to reach the goal as soon as possible, so that he could be left in peace.
A dull thud comes from the landing.
If I’m going to die I’d rather do it while I’m still alive.
And yet this story has taught me one lesson: people who are bad-tempered, sulky and suspicious aren’t really bad; it’s just that, unlike everyone else, they haven’t been able to work out the truth, that the world is no place for the good.
with her kick up the arse.
And yet they should have worked out that if the goddess of fortune didn’t kiss them when they were attractive and in good shape, she certainly isn’t about to now that they have hairs coming out of their noses, no teeth in their mouth and cataracts in their eyes.
And yet now I know that you can’t treat work like something you leave to one side, because work doesn’t stay on one side. I wouldn’t have done many of the stupid things with which I tried to give a meaning to life if I had had an involving job.
Passion doesn’t make you love your wife, it doesn’t teach you to enjoy parenthood to the full, it doesn’t even help you shake off the dust that has built up behind you since childhood, that’s true, but at least it helps you to close your eyes in the evening and not to flounder in torment. I have spent my life lamenting Caterina, my job, my lack of freedom, the wrong choices I’ve made, the children who robbed me of my energy, passing time, to avoid looking in the face the one true fact: I wasn’t able to change anything.
Perhaps I’m not as strong as I want to make people think.
uncomfortable truths are less frightening if they also apply to other people.
‘I am,’ I say, noticing a detail that captures my attention from the corner of my eye, ‘but not so much because of her work as because she earns respect. In some ways she resembles me.’
A woman seeks outside of marriage what she doesn’t find inside it: Diego is a great guy, but he’s too good, like Marino.
You’ve never advised us which route to go down, you’ve never helped us to choose, you’ve never explained how life works, but at least you’ve never asked for anything in return either. You were honest: you didn’t give and you didn’t demand.’ She
if you get the seed wrong, you can’t predict what crop you’ll harvest.
Love fades with time, like the colours in a photograph, but luckily you’re left with the outlines that remind you of the moment that once was.
In old age you understand that few things are really worth getting worked up about: the betrayal and contempt of your family might be rightly listed among them.
You spend your life believing that one day what you hope for will happen, but then you grasp that reality is much less romantic than you think. It’s true that dreams sometimes turn up at your door, but only if you’ve taken the trouble to invite them. Otherwise you can be sure you’ll be spending the evening on your own.
You think you don’t need anyone until you notice, one day, that you don’t have anyone any more.
Storerooms are hostile places filled with a strange melancholy. Objects that have been set aside are nothing but memories that have been set aside,
As they get old, the toys that children loved are loved in turn by their parents.
Certainly, the interesting things about a person are all on the outside; inside all you find are guts, blood and regret. Nothing very attractive.
Try and sift through other people’s lives – flick through their unacted desires, their regrets, their shortcomings, their mistakes. There’s one thing you’ll never find: children.
if you’ve gone to all the trouble of having two children you soon learn to mask boredom, pain and depression when they’re around. Unless you want to make them unhappy too.
Sometimes I think that if you’re born one way, you can’t die another way. You spend a lifetime deluding yourself that you’ve changed direction, and at the end you discover that the shortcut led you straight back to the path you were already on before.
He was like a child in the body of an old man; he was one of those people who have only half grown, their body heading straight for late middle age while their character was still anchored in the first years of life. Like a child, Marino was full of enthusiasm, generosity and life, but like a child he was also insecure, fragile and fearful.
it’s not that some people are braver than others, it’s just that some people confront pain when it needs to be confronted.
There is more than one way to confront loneliness: some people lock themselves up at home; some become too fond of animals; and some learn to commune with silence.
Until you experience pain in the first person, you can’t understand it. And yet how many people use the words ‘I understand you’ incorrectly? ‘You don’t understand a bloody thing, my friend’ – that’s what we should really say. I was playing cops and robbers; Emma was facing reality.
If at a certain age you come back to sleep at your parents’ house, there are two possibilities: either they’re not around any more, or you’re in trouble.
Intimacy is created not by bonds of blood, but by living together. Even a mother, with time and distance, becomes a bit more of a stranger.
‘Middle ways mean not taking the right road, the one that takes you straight where you want and need to go. Human beings are masters at idling to keep from reaching the goal they’re scared of.’
What we are vanishes with our bodies, while what we have been is preserved in our loved ones.
You get used to solitude, and forget that the night is less frightening if there’s someone breathing beside you.
because I’m like a guitar string, at peace with myself until someone plucks me: from that moment onwards I begin to vibrate ad infinitum. The sight of the place had taken me back in time. And at my age it’s very dangerous to walk backwards.
Unfortunately life has taught me that no one can help anyone. We save ourselves on our own, if we want to.
I maintain that things worked perfectly well until the creation of the monkey, after which something clogged the mechanism and out came man, a creature too intelligent for the tasks assigned to him. Intelligence is a precious quality. For us, however, it serves hardly any purpose except to invent stranger and stranger things that give us the illusion of being perfect. It doesn’t help us understand why we are here; it doesn’t make us less exposed than other creatures. It doesn’t supply answers, but rather creates new questions. And too many questions increase unhappiness. I don’t know if there are any living creatures apart from man who take their own lives, but if there are we’re still the only ones who do it because we’re weary of life. Why? Because whoever moulded us got the mixture of ingredients wrong, that’s why.
They teach us equations, that poem by Manzoni, ‘The Fifth of May’, from memory, the names of the seven kings of Rome, but no one tells us how to confront our fears, how to accept our disappointments, where to find the courage to endure grief.
There’s a big difference between the love for a woman you will never be able to have and the love for one you have. The first will shine for all eternity; the second will tend to go out, as the sun will in a few billion years.
Yellow highlight | Location: 3,411
to live a life that’s really worth living you need to take important decisions every morning. Unfortunately I find making choices absolutely terrifying, and I’ve never done it. That’s why I have been incomplete as a person.
You chain yourself to something or someone every time you don’t make a choice.
justice is a concept invented by man – it doesn’t exist in nature.
I like to be facetious, to not take life too seriously. I like pretty, voluptuous women. But I like lots of other things as well. For example, I like the smell of cooking that reaches me through an open window, or the curtain in the summer, stirred by a gust of wind. I like dogs that lean their head on one side to listen to you, or houses that have recently been whitewashed. I like it when a book is waiting for me on the chest of drawers. I like jam jars and the yellow glow of street lamps. I like the feel of raw meat and fish. I like the sound of a bottle being uncorked. I like the red wine that clings to the glass. I like old fishing boats with their paint flaking. I like familiar places and the smell of laundries. I like cork floats and butchers slicing meat with regular movements. I like red cheeks and a quaver in the voice.
beside you every day, after a while you can’t help yawning.
like the goal drawn on an unplastered wall for a game of football.
and the sight of a bucket and spade set down on the sand.
Oh, wait, I’ve got one last I like. I like people who fight every day to be happy.