When Hector embarked on his search for happiness last year, I found myself somewhat irritated by the simplistic writing style. When I was given the opportunity to ask the author just one question, I chose to ask him about it.
It came to me more than I chose it. I think different factors lead to it : the early influence I got from Candide’s Voltaire, and the French strong tradition of philosophical tales, having to read them when I was a school boy. The desire to get rid of the seriousness of my former books, and to make fun of the solemn characterization of psychiatrists in fiction, either dangerous lunatics, or all-knowing benevolent healers. ( It has improved a lot since then, with shows like The Sopranos and in Treatment.)
I’m not strong on the tradition of French philosophical tales but I do love the lampooning of the mental health industry, sublimated in Frasier. I have the full series on DVD. They are in constant rotation and I thought often about Frasier as I raced through the second installment of Hector’s journeys.
Like Frasier, Hector is a mental health expert with troubles of his own. The relationship with his long term girlfriend has cooled and he is no longer sure of their future. Neither is she having embarked on an affair with her married boss. Hector, however, doesn’t know this when said boss, head of an international pharmaceutical company, sends Hector on a mission to track down a missing researcher. Professor Cormorant is developing a revolutionary love potion: one designed to remove many of the downsides of the condition: spurned love, loving too much, a lack of love, the death of love.
Hector’s pursuit of Professor Cormorant and his suitcase of samples and research notes brings him adventure, an opportunity to play Tristan to a Cambodean Isolde, and time to reflect on the complications in his failing relationship. The joy of attraction, desire, love, fidelity, trust are contrasted with their havoc creating opposites: rejection, repulsion, hate, infidelity and jealousy – in Lelord’s characteristic and light-hearted way. Although Hector’s musings on heartache inject a sorrowful and more grounded core.
What though of Professor Cormorant’s wonderdrug? A panacea to the evils of hormone imbalance (oxytocin, the source of long term affection vs dopamine, the rush of intoxication, lust and new love) or another scientific advance to be abused by governments or multinational pharmaceuticals?
I thoroughly enjoyed Hector’s latest adventure. The stylistic quirks didn’t irritate as much as they did in Book 1. I find I am pondering the questions raised and shall be for a while to come.