‘What You Want: The Pursuit of Happiness’, by Constantine Phipps
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What You Want: The Pursuit of Happiness, by Constantine Phipps, Quercus, RRP£20, 310 pages
What You Want, Constantine Phipps’ third novel, if you can call it that, is an ordinary tale of a family break-up elevated by the author’s remarkable decision to write the entire book in verse, boldly taking the first line of Dante’s The Divine Comedy as his starting point.
Patrick’s wife, Louise, has fallen in love with another man, and orders Patrick to pack his bags and leave the home they share with their young son – “ . . . so at a stroke / I found I was a lonely single bloke,” muses our narrator. Broken spirited, Patrick washes down a bottle of sleeping pills with Scotch and during his subsequent decline into delirium, he revisits some of the major events leading up to this point in his life – meeting Louise, the birth of his son, the dullness of family life, his own unfaithfulness.
It is a disquieting story; the writing is honed, as intense as a volume of poems. The author’s bravado pays off.