Elise Valmorbida grew up Italian in Australia, but fell in love with London. Her critically acclaimed novel Matilde Waltzing was nominated for two national literary awards and her short stories have been published widely. She runs a communications consultancy and teaches creative writing at Central St Martin’s. Her latest work, The Book of Happy Endings, is a life-affirming collection of true stories about finding love.
“It’s a challenge to choose good books with happy endings. Tragedy is generally more interesting and most of my favourite books are bleak. Voss. Beloved. Lord of the Flies. Wide Sargasso Sea. The God of Small Things. Anything by Samuel Beckett, George Orwell or Michael Ondaatje. When I write fiction, it’s normally bleak, which perversely makes me happy. But I out-smiled the Cheshire Cat as I wrote about real people with joy to share in this doomsday world. In The Book of Happy Endings you’ll meet, amongst others, Iraqi political dissidents full of hope and love, strangers who discover passionate devotion after a year of transatlantic letters, and a frail old London widow whose approach to life is truly inspirational.”
1. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
At a talk in Brighton, the author joked about this book as the best she could do when her publishers begged her for something with a happy ending. If you’ve read Postcards or any of her other richly poetic but bleak books, you’ll know that The Shipping News is as happy as it gets. The hero fumbles his way into love after lots of bad weather and squidburgers, not to mention death on all sides. But the ending is happy. Really it is.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This is one of those books I adored as a child. It’s still a deeply affirmative read now that I’m a grown-up. The racists are defeated by wisdom, Atticus kills the rabid dog in one shot, and the dreaded Boo Radley turns out to be benign after all. Plot aside, the language is as sharp as a peppermint drop. And that makes me happy.
3. The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
I am personally responsible for 99% of all sales of this book. I bought it for myself, then for everyone I know and love. If you take Seneca’s advice and “hold the possibility of disaster in mind at all times”, you won’t mind being put to death, or anything. Listen to Epicurus and sort out your entire life with a few simple things: some close friends, lively talk and good food.
4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Lovers meet by moonlight in the forest, falling in and out of love with each other, uttering sublime poetry from insult to sonnet, and proving that “the course of true love never did run smooth”. But there’s happy closure with a triple wedding at the end, although one of the humans is still under the influence of a fairy potion. Even if you know this play inside-out, each new reading is sure to boost your serotonin levels.
5. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
This is like Wuthering Heights through a devilish cloud of laughing gas. The narrator marks special passages of literary merit with asterisks, just as a Baedeker guide rates cathedrals and hotels. Londoner Flora Poste confronts the darkest wilds of Sussex: a bull called Big Business, old Adam who’s forever cletterin’ the dishes with his thorn twig, and smouldering Seth who goes a-mollocking somewhere in Howling when the sukebind is heavily in bud. Quiver with the Quivering Brethren. Fear the incident glimpsed long ago behind the potting shed. Laugh till the end, which soars with love and an aeroplane.
6. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Forget the films, read the book. It’s too reductive to call it an allegory but you’ll feel like you’ve survived a world war – which is how the author must have felt when he’d finished writing this giant epic. After the advancing armies of Sauron and his allies have been defeated at last, there’s nothing happier than a cosy cup of tea back in the green and pleasant Shire. This is one of those books which reminds you to be really happy that England exists.
Buy The Lord of the Rings at the Guardian bookshop
7. The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
The hilarious chronicles of a pompous Victorian clerk called Pooter. He is troubled by tradesmen, thrilled with his own jokes, and constantly getting knocked off his perch. The writing is sly, subtle and silly. When Pooter’s son Lupin brings home his new love Daisy Mutlar, I can barely read for laughing. This book has a happy beginning, middle and end.
8. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
OK, it’s not exactly “happy ever after”, but it’s a happy day when a junkie shakes off the predators of his past. Our hero Renton ends up with a stash of cash in his pocket and a ticket to a new life. Nothing like cutting loose for feeling happy.
9. Anne of Green Gables (and the sequels) by LM Montgomery
An insight into another time, and another place. Three generations of girls in my family grew up with Anne, the feisty poetic orphan who dyes her hair green and takes the hard edges off her strict guardians. A boy at school pulls her hair and calls her “carrot tops”. She hates him. Years later she marries him. Gilbert is not one of those moody males romanticised by fiction and impossible in life – I’d marry him in a minute.
10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Written by a woman who was not so lucky in love, this has to be the happiest ending of all: after much ado, everyone finds true love (or something like it) and lots of money too. What more could you wish for? Exquisite irony, compassion, wit, heaps of haberdashery and every kind of dress you can fit in your wardrobe.