Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them.
I've mentioned before how much I hate the practice of bestowing books by women with stupid girly covers regardless of their topic or target audience. I hate it because a) It means I walk past books I'd really like and b) People who aren't me pick up books they really hate.
Matthew Reynolds is not, to my knowledge, a women. He has, however, been gifted a deeply stupid cover which almost caused me to walk straight past this book. The reason I didn't was thanks to the text announcing it had been shortlisted The Authors Club Best First Novel Award, and the reason I decided to give it a try was because it was from Bloomsbury, and Bloomsbury match my tastes. I got it from the Library, but if this had been a Daily Deal on Amazon I probably wouldn't have bought it, and I would have definitely missed out.
Designs For A Happy Home is a design guide written by famed interior designer Alizia Tamé (formally Alice Tame). In it, she talks us through her Magic Mottoes and her philosophies of design: the importance of life in the creation of a space etc. For her, design is not about painting a wall a certain colour or finding the right fabric, it's about concept.
Designs For A Happy Home is also about Alizia herself, and her marriage.
I come from a Fine Art background. I can happily burble on about dead cows for hours and respond with gimlet eyed enthusiasm to lights turning on and off. I also do some work as a designer, so I have a lot of appreciation for the ins and outs of the design process (which is totally different to the artistic process). A book which devotes a significant portion of its initial chapters to the discussion of and descriptions of conceptual design makes me very happy indeed. This book reads like it's written by somebody who knows their stuff on this matter.
The tone is perfect. There's a reason I want to use the term "conceptual design" for what Alizia does and it would be easy for this book to be mocking or dismissive - there is a fine line between genius and ridiculous waste of money and my Fine Art background gives me enthusiasm for the former view - but it isn't. I never felt it took itself entirely seriously either, even though its central character does. There is a tongue firmly pressed into its cheek.
I love books which maintain a first (or very close third) person viewpoint and which manage to show us things about the other characters which the narrator misses. It's a difficult trick because it can make the narrator read as being stupid, but Reynolds manages it well. At one point it felt a little stretched, but only for a few pages.
If it has a flaw, it's an odd one: it has perhaps too much fidelity. The novel is the book Alizia writes and as a consequence, does take a while to get going. To begin with, she is trying to write about design and while I loved the design parts, I think some may find them tedious. However, in the context of the story these work. As a whole, this is a definitely a winner in my eyes and if you are tempted to quit, do stick with it.
In summation then: it's intelligent, it's creative, it's human and it charmed me utterly. 4 stars.