Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados

At the end of a happy hour, one of two things happen – the party carries on, or everyone goes home. Halfway through Marlowe Granados’s debut novel, Happy Hour, I was in two minds – stay or go?

Obviously I stayed or I wouldn’t be writing a review.

The narrator, Isa Epley, twenty-one years old, is spending the summer in New York with her best friend, Gala Novak. The girls have hardly a cent to their names, and spend the days doing various cash-in-hand jobs (such as nightclub hostesses, extras on film sets, and life-drawing models) to fund their night-time adventures – bars, restaurants, parties. They rely on tenuous introductions and acquaintances for invitations, meals and trips to the Hamptons.

I can’t tell you how much pressure is put on girls like me and Gala to give other people a good time.

The story is told through Isa’s diary entries, and as the summer progresses, her and Gala’s friendship is strained by their lack of money and differing intentions (I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘ambitions’ because the girls hardly think a day ahead, let alone months or years).

There is very little ‘action’ – some flirtations, an art show, and toward the end of the novel, Isa reveals she is grieving for her mother – but none of this is substantial or explored in a way that speaks to broader themes. I don’t need ‘action’ if the story focuses on the dynamics of relationships, however, Isa and Gala’s friendship is one-dimensional (and Gala is painted as selfish and irresponsible). There are lots of very good stories about female friendships which hold truth in the dialogue, the small acts of care and the tiny betrayals (Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth springs to mind, and of course the exceedingly more complex Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante) – unfortunately, Happy Hour falls well short of those.

But somewhere among the endless and interchangeable descriptions of outfits, party-goers, and scrounging cab fares home, nestle Isa’s reflections on people and their behaviour, and these reflections are sharp and insightful.

They seemed to find hardship fascinating – dirty hair but suspiciously straight teeth. Because they begrudgingly accept allowance from their parents, they think they’re not upper-middle-class. There are, of course, slummers in every generation.

These men spoke as though a revolution were going to start right from that very bar – as though what they did was necessary and vital to the world. I can hardly understand how they came to think that way.

Isa is largely unaware that her honesty comes off endearingly as opposed to cocky. She is clear-minded and unapologetic – she knows what she likes (things that are elegant and glamourous) and while she is directionless, she is self-assured.

It takes practice to have restraint, and we are not yet at an age to try it out.

So should I have left after happy hour? Probably, but sometimes the last conversation you have at the end of a long night is the best. I’m not sure who this book will be marketed to – Millennials? Although maybe it says nothing new to them. It will no doubt make a sparkling movie.

2.5/5 Ambivalent.

I received my copy of Happy Hour from the publisher, Head of Zeus, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

I ordered a French 75 and Gala asked if she could have a Caesar, which is not indigenous to America.

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