Are Danish people really happier than the rest of us? With Brock Clarke’s new book The Happiest People in the World we get a little taste of whether that is true or not.
The story starts out with a newspaper cartoonist in Denmark republishing a comic featuring Mohammad. Sound familiar? Yes, Mr. Brock goes there and the results are a mixed bag. The opening pages with the clueless cartoonist Jen Baedrup aka Henrik Larsen from Sweden are pretty funny along with the two bumbling so-called terrorists Tarik and Soren. The terrorists set fire to Jens house thinking they have killed him but it’s not the case.
He is whisked off to America with Secret Service types following him and is given a new name and gets a job at a school featuring a cast of other crazy character types including an angry student named Kurt who ends up discovering who he really is after he gets close to a family member. Some could say this is a book about misunderstood boys doing things that if they thought about probably wouldn’t do. You could even go as far as saying maybe the lead character is still a boy inside because he does something like publishing a cartoon that ends up getting him into a lot of trouble. Is this what a “happy” person in Denmark would do?
Mr. Clarke starts off the novel in Denmark and as soon as he heads off to America the book starts to feel a bit contrived when he turns the story into one about assassins and a contrived love story amongst some of the characters. Kurt and Jens are the most fleshed-out characters with most of the others being ones we have seen before.
Mr. Clarke could easily have whittled this novel down to 250 pages and still had a great story. There are some laugh out moments in the novel as well as a few memorable characters. For a novel setting itself up as a book about the happiest people in the world it certainly didn’t leave this reader being the most satisfied reader in the world. Clarke needs to know what to keep and what to toss out to keep the pages turning. As they say in another Scandinavian language (Swedish, to be exact), “lagom” means ‘’just enough.” If he can get his novels to that point, then we, the readers, are in for some happy times.