Cumbernauld was built to be the town of the future…that is, if the future looked like a really rubbish episode of Doctor Who. It’s also home to Walter Wedgeworth, a child stuck in a uniquely dysfunctional family controlled by the tyrannical Fishtank, whose CB Radio aerial is a metal middle finger to all the neighbours on Craigieburn Road. When 11-year-old Walter discovers the corpse of a baby inside a cardboard box, he resolves to ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen. But the child’s fate haunts Walter, bringing him into conflict with the world around him. Walter’s journey will lead him from childhood to adulthood; school, college, bereavement, Britpop, his first job, Blackpool, the Spice Girls, feuds with his neighbour, and finally…face-to-face with a child killer. Taking place in the 90s, Happiness Is Wasted On Me is a genre-blending tale that spans a decade in the life of Walter. It’s a coming of age tale, a family drama, a mystery, and a biting dark comedy. Ultimately, it’s the story of how even the strangest people can find their way in the world.
This was my bookclub book for May/June for the Scottish Bookclub. I don’t know if I would have picked it up otherwise, and I’m so glad that I did! I really enjoyed this book and ended up giving it 4 stars.
Looking at the blurb, I was worried that this book was going to be a very depressing read. I was concerned that it was going to go down the route of ‘depressing tale of a Scottish childhood’, which one of my least favourite types of Scottish fiction. This wasn’t the case. The book did cover some extremely difficult topics including: infant death, physical and mental abuse, poverty. In spite of this, the book included so many moments of dark humour which provided a comedic lift out of the sadness. I cried with laughter with the granny on the stairs!
The characters were so realistic. I felt for Walter, he was such a tormented wee soul! I found myself finding some relatability in him, especially with his school pals. His love of his local library brought back warm memories of many a day of my own spent in Peebles library. I do feel like the climax of this book was very much in alignment with one of the Nancy Drew novels that he enjoyed so much.
Fishtank was an absolute tyrant, I hated him so much. He was so much more than a cartoon villain, he really did feel like he could have been real. He probably was but I’m lucky enough not to have come across anyone like him.
My favourite character was Donnie! This was Walter’s older sister who was his closest family member. She was just so exciting as a character and had led a thrilling life. I have heard that she may have been moulded around the author’s own sister (who sadly passed away) and I think that she was given the best story arc which is a lovely memorial.
This book was set over a ten year period over the 1990s and early 00s, I absolutely love reading books set during this time period! I found this book to be jam packed full of nostalgia and it gave me the warm and fuzzies.
This was such an enjoyable book that was filled with moments of heartbreak and sadness but peppered with moments of sheer hilarity.
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