Hygge – Charlotte Abrahams

★★

There’s been rather a lot of books published over the past few months devoted to the Danish concept known as hygge. Generally defined as “a feeling of cosy contentment” or “a form of everyday togetherness”, hygge is very much the “It” lifestyle of the moment. Hygge was even voted as one of the top 10 words of the year for 2016 by Collins Dictionary . It makes sense: the past few years have been very tense, what with political sentiment swinging uncomfortably over to the right; beloved musicians, artists and actors dying seemingly daily; concerns about the environment, and terrorism, and fascism, and on and on. We all need a little comfort and happiness in our lives. Perhaps the coziness and simple pleasures of hygge are just what we need to offset the negativity in our lives?

That may be the case, and hygge might be a healthy, happy way of facing the world and maintaining balance in our hectic, pressured lives. But this book is not the introduction to hygge we need or deserve. For starters; as well-intentioned she may be; Charlotte Abrahams in not Danish. She has no danish roots or relatives, and has never lived in Denmark (she visited though for a couple of weeks). So, here we have a book about a fundamentally DAnish phenomenon, written by an outsider. This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, except that because she’s so very un-Danish, she lacks the innate, grew-up-with-it understanding of what, exactly, hygge is. What, for example, would be a hyggelige meal? She doesn’t know, so she asks some Danes, who answer (this seems the stock response) “hygge is a feeling”. So, back at square one, she makes some generalized assumptions and decides that a hyggelige meal would be comfort food. Which, honestly, is a conclusion I could have drawn from reading the Wikipedia entry for “hygge”.

Also, to be perfectly blunt: the book is less about hygge than it is about her coming to terms with being a twice-divorced, soon-to-be empty-nester, who is entering her 50s. And this would be fine, were this a memoir or a self-help book.I expected this to be a lifestyle book about; essentially; coziness, comfort, living and eating well, and having nice blankets (apparently), but what I got was Eat Pray Love for people who want to stay home and snuggle.

Honestly, I started to get a bit irritated when it took her discovering hygge to realize that you can throw a dinner party without slaving over “lamb three ways and deconstructed lemon tart”. I can honestly say I’ve never been to a dinner party where someone served a deconstructed anything, but I’m willing to concede that some people feel the need to serve up elaborate and impressive meals when friends come over. But is this a requirement? And… do you really not know that there are other options, Charlotte? I started to suspect at this point that the author may be a little bit of an intense, type A overachiever.

It was at around the 51% mark that I truly began to despair of even finishing the book. A discussion about the hyggeligness of blended families devolved into airing her family’s dirty laundry. Honestly, I just wanted to read a nice book about a Danish lifestyle movement, not descriptions of how she threw her cell phone at her brother and her father hates her boyfriend and wait how old are these people? Seriously?

Shortly thereafter, she joins a running club (take note: joining clubs is another hyggeligte thing) and manages to annoy people by making an effort. She had “no idea that protocol demands that new members, particularly female ones, under- rather than overplayed their ability.” Oh right, god forbid a woman should contravene their unspoken but somehow sacrosanct rule not to be any good at running. Is systematic sexism hyggelig? UGH. DOn’t worry, they’re all friends now. Except she doesn’t run with them any more because running to achieve (completing marathons, getting medals) isn’t hyggelig either.

Honestly I found this book infuriating. The “helpful” how-to sections basically just summarize everything that’s come in the “all about Charlotte” sections before that, with headings to make it official. So I got to read things twice! Great use of my time. There was some genuinely interesting information – research about the nature of happiness (and why Denmark is considered to have one of the happiest societies in the world) information about Danish furniture design, people-centered architecture and city planning – but most of the content of the book was the author musing on herself, and how she was achieving hygge, or not, and what hygge meant to her, or how she assumed hygge worked, because mostly she was guessing. Honestly, there are so many books on hygge that there must be a really great one out there, but this book is just not for me.

Rules of hygge as far as I can tell from this book:

  • Blankets, cosy ones not cheap ones.
  • Candles and soft light.
  • Expensive Danish furniture .
  • Comfort food.
  • Bland conversation.
  • Cake.
  • Everyone has to agree an occasion was hyggelig or it was not hyggelig. Si I guess If it’s in a box and you don’t open the box it is in a state of both hygge and unhygge. (Schroedinger’s hygge).
  • Clubs. Football or stamp collecting are suggested (Ugh, just how boring is Denmark?).
  • Make stuff. Or buy stuff an artisan has made by hand. You know, so stuff is more authentic.

Provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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