Aminatta Forna’s exquisite 2013 novel “The Hired Man” opened with a hunter on a Croatian hillside training his sights on a stranger’s car. The silence of early morning, the stillness of the watcher, both were palpable on the page, and a similarly arresting scene draws us into Forna’s new novel “Happiness”: “Spring snow, still, porcelain bowls in the hollows of the earth. Blue hour, the outlines of pine trees and houses stood against a deepening sky. The wolfer gazed upon the lights of the town.”
In Massachusetts in 1834, a journeyman hunter is hired to kill a marauding wolf, and the small drama that ensues is a marvel of compression. In just seven pages, Forna evokes a distant time, a timeless land, a stalker and his prey.
Killing done, the prologue closes, but its force seems to echo — this is one of Forna’s mysterious skills — as the narrative shifts to London in 2014: “People walked unswervingly, armed with bags, defended by earphones, looking neither to right nor left.” A fox weaves its way through this rush-hour crowd. Attila, a psychiatrist from Ghana, visiting for a conference, pauses on Waterloo Bridge, causing a runner to collide with him. The woman apologizes and continues on. A few hours earlier, just a few miles away, a nursing home worker wheels his patients outside. “By 10.30, eight old folks were parked against the brickwork.. . . Eyes closed as if with the reverence of prayer, faces turned to the sun, they might have been believers awaiting the appearance of their god.” The aide will be fired.
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