The Promise of Happiness

Justin Cartwright

Thomas Dunne Books

A powerful elegy to the intimacies and idiocies of family, The Promise of Happiness tells the story of an apparently ordinary family on the cusp of an extraordinary moment: the return of the family's prodigal daughter, Juliet. Her release from an upstate New York prison throws the Judds, formerly of London but now scattered, back together.

For her father, Juliet's conviction for a theft she may not have committed had proven the disintegration of a dying society. For her mother, it is a source not only of resentment, but bafflement. And for all of the Judds, it is a moment of both intense joy and confusion.

As Justin Cartwright's novel opens, Juliet's parents await her release and return to England. Charlie, their capable and successful son, has been charged with collecting her and softening her reentry into the world, his own life unsettled meanwhile by his glamorous girlfriend's pregnancy and his ambivalence towards it. Sophie, the youngest and most rebellious sibling, is in the midst of getting her chaotic life (mostly) under control. And Juliet herself is wounded, the perfect daughter made scapegoat for a victimless crime.

With searching perception and gentle humor, Justin Cartwright gradually reveals the inner struggles of the five disparate Judds as they grapple with their conflicting feelings for each other and the moral dilemmas that beset them, bringing them finally together in what is ultimately a celebration of the layers and universal oddness of the love of a family.


Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Charles Judd has walked on the beach almost every day for the last four years. When it is cold---it's early spring, but freezing---he needs to pee more often than is natural. Away from the house, where Daphne is heroically trying to cook something fishy from Rick Stein's cookbook, he often pees in the open. There's nobody around, and it reassures him that when he's out of the house he can pee freely. There's none of that gush of youth, of course, and he has to be careful of the wind direction, but still he feels calmed. When he was a young man, peeing imperiously into the urinals


Praise for The Promise of Happiness

Praise for The Promise of Happiness:
Winner, South African Sunday Times 2005 Fiction Award; Winner, Hawthornden Prize (UK)
"Beautifully observed, emotionally detailed novel about one family's decline and regeneration...a lively, sometimes very funny portrait of middle-class life in contemporary England. Deserves to win the South African-born Oxford-educated Mr. Cartwright a following here. Mr. Cartwright's Updikean eye for how people live today and his dramatist's ear for how they talk enable him to conjure this England with wry humor. A genuinely moving story about the hazards and consolations of familial love...as affecting as it is gripping."--The New York Times
"Bitingly funny and fiercely observed...wonderfully well written. The savage irony and probing moral questioning nicely balance each other out, and as an exploration of contemporary Englishness--proud, ironic and ridiculous all at once--it is unsurpassed."--The New York Times Book Review
"A satisfying, wholly realized portrait of a modern family through multiple perspectives and a graceful, witty style."--Tampa Tribune
"Hilarious, despairing, rapier-sharp."--Publishers Weekly (starred)
"An elegy to Old England. It is a poignant farewell to a way of life."--Baltimore Sun
"It's almost impossible not to become engrossed by the Judds."--Christian Science Monitor
"A wry exploration of human foibles and the dark comedy of relationships. Like Jonathan Franzen, with whom he has been compared, Cartwright writes pitch-perfect dialog, inhabits his female characters as fully as he does the male, and glares unflinchingly at contemporary life. He knowingly delineates the darkest traits of decent people; the vain, petty, and hateful things most people say only to themselves. His characters are nonetheless endearing and his intricate, nuanced portrayals of family relationships astoundingly good."--Library Journal
"A poignant and interesting novel. Cartwright depicts expertly the way we will veer toward the augury of happiness like tulips bending toward the sun."--Houston Chronicle
"Prizewinning British novelist Cartwright effortlessly shifts the setting from New York to London to the Cornish coast and ranges freely between the verve of youth and the regrets of middle age."--Booklist
“A storming piece of work. Such is the pull of Cartwright’s narrative, the curious expertise that he brings to so many parts of human behavior, the sense of authority, that the reader is eternally seduced.”—Independent on Sunday

“The elegant assurance of its opening passages induces in the reader an almost incredulous admiration—as for some astonishing feat of physical strength and grace—that lasts right to the final sentence. Cartwright beautifully and inexorably constructs a tragedy of noble reticence and oddness, in which even hope (for hope remains, at the bottom of the box, when all the sorrow and wickedness has emerged) has a changeling aspect.”—Sunday Telegraph

“A touching, beautifully observed novel written with precision and sympathy.”—Spectator

“Grandeur is what Justin Cartwright is after in this extraordinarily bold novel. This is a funny, angry, moving novel. Cartwright threads the bright hues of America through the grey-green shades of England, like the play of patterned light in the stained-glass windows that loom so large in this brilliant novel. The finale is a rich and highly improbable settling of accounts, a kind of Shakespearean revel, a brazen manipulation of destinies, which seems both absurd and absolutely right.”—Independent

“Robust, technically dazzling realist writing…devastating breadth of empathy.”—Time Out

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Justin Cartwright

  • Justin Cartwright has won the Whitbread Prize, for which he has been shortlisted five times; he has also been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the South African M-Net Prize, and the CNA Prize. This is his eighth novel and the third he has published in the U.S. He lives in London.





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Available Formats and Book Details

The Promise of Happiness

Justin Cartwright

  • e-Book



Thomas Dunne Books