Happiness, love and time

Belgravia Books has given me the joy of coming across new authors. Some of them really well known in the UK (but out of my radar) and others who have sold millions of copies (and I wasn’t one of those enthusiastic buyers). But is never late to learn new things and discover new favourite books. This is how I was introduced to François Lelord. A French author who decided to leave his successful career as a psychiatrist to write about the main three concerns of all human beings: Happiness, Love and Time. In that order.

Lelord created a fantastic character called Hector, a psychiatrist who is not entirely enjoying life and decides to to take round the world trips searching for the best ways to understand what makes us happy, why we fall in love and to learn of passage of time. Hector’s Journeys are three novels written, let say, for the ordinary reader in a very simple narrative form and in a fairy tale style. They do begin with Once upon a time!

In the trilogy, Hector writes a series of notes that guide the reader and invite us to give them a practical use. For example, in Hector and the Search of Happiness , Hector shares his lessons which are a reminder for us readers that happiness sometimes is found in simple things. ” Lesson no. 3: Many people see happiness only in the future”.  Or what about: “Lesson no. 16: Happiness is knowing how to celebrate”.  How many times we see ourselves feeling miserable for nothing? Well, I think this is the book that should be read by everybody to remind us that life is full of reasons to be happy but overall that happiness should be shared.

Hector and the Secrets of Love is a slightly more complex novel in the sense that more characters come into the picture. But again, Lelord keeps Hector writing notes on those rational elements of love and also of heartache. (If you never felt either of those please do write me a note so I can forward it to Monsieur Lelord, he’ll be fascinated).  Let me give you an example: “Seedling no. 13: Passion in love can be terribly unfair”. Sounds familiar? Here’s another: ” Seedling no. 21: Love proves itself when put to the test”. 

And finally, his latest novel Hector Finds Time, its well, about time but also about life and how we live it through the passing of the years. In this book, Hector gives us exercises to help us understand this very abstract concept that rule our lives, sometimes with no mercy at all. (hello wrinkles!) Here’s how he does it: Time exercise No. 4: Think of all the people and things you are not paying enough attention to now, because one day they will be gone and then it will be too late.  

Without giving too much away, I believe the great thing about these three little novels is that each one is a simple recipe to live a better life. It goes pretty much in the way that love and happiness are all around you and its up to us to look out for them and grab it. The passing of time is inevitable, so deal with it and use time intelligently. For me that would mean being happy and keeping love around you.

In a session early this week at Belgravia Books, François Lelord said that he found easier to tackle these topics through simple lessons than writing an academic self help book as was first expected by his publishers at the time. The truth is that it’s no surprise that Lelord has sold millions of copies and his novels put a smile on my face. The issue is to give them to one or two people I know without them feeling I think they are sad, sad creatures (I just believe there is room for improvement!)

François Lelord is published in the UK by Gallic Books.

The Mango Orchard

My friend Robin Bayley, author of this very moving story, gave me a freshly just out of print copy of The Mango Orchard in December. We agreed that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to read it on my way to Mexico for the Christmas holidays. Eleven hours on a plane, come on! there is no excuse not to do some reading. As it happens, I took the book with me and came back to London without reading a single page.

He kindly invited me to the book launch this coming Friday 5 March at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon. I thought it would be unacceptable to show up without reading his book. I wanted to avoid the “hey great story, loved it! very interesting! I’ll definitely recommend it ” kind of situation.

The Mango Orchard is the story of the journey that Robin made to re-trace the footsteps of his great-grandfather who lived in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century and left the country when the Mexican Revolution made it too dangerous for him to stay. (I won’t say anything else about the plot because it’s worth reading it.)

In my opinion, the beauty of Robin’s writing is the lack of a patronising point of view towards Latin America which is quite frequent in travel writing in Britain. He just goes with the flow. He does not judge the way things are. No comments on culture shock. Nothing. He comes to us in a completely transparent and honest way describing what he saw, the people he met and overall his thoughts and feelings throughout the journey.

People, of course, play a key part in the story. I think it is through them that Robin, in a very original way, captures the essence of Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico. I believe he is able to achieve this because when this journey took place Robin was already able to speak Spanish and therefore had the unique opportunity of getting very close to his “characters” in the book. As I read, I sometimes forgot these were real people because they could easily come out of a  García Márquez novel.

Needless to say, I very much enjoyed the book. There are some truly moving moments as some family secrets are being unfolded. Risking getting emotional, I must confess these kind of stories make me feel I should follow Robin’s footsteps and research, I mean, really research on my family’s past and take the risk of finding not so very nice things. We all have wonderful family stories to tell but only a few are as brave as Robin Bayley to share them with the rest of the world.

The Mango Orchard has a wonderful webiste where you can find out more about the book and his author.