Paperbacks: Girl, Balancing by Helen Dunmore and The Other Side of Happiness by Brock Bastian

Girl, Balancing by Helen Dunmore

Short stories by the late novelist Helen Dunmore. Four are about Nina, who we see as a baby, a teenager, and a young woman. Nina grows up somewhere in the middle of the last century. Dunmore captures her brilliantly — her loneliness, the privations of her daily life, the consolation (or not) of her cigarettes

There’s a terrifying moment in the title story when she’s in real danger, and this moment is written with real intensity. There are 33 stories here — about widows, about twins, about John Donne. A woman, looking at a portrait of Donne, sees deep into his life. Dunmore could really write; we’ll miss her.  

(Windmill, £8.99)

The Other Side of Happiness: Embracing a More Fearless Approach to Living by Brock Bastian

Lots of us believe, instinctively, that pain is bad. Brock Bastian, an Australian psychologist from the University of Melbourne, tells us otherwise. Darwin, says Bastian, understood that things evolved because of pain — “from the war of nature, from famine and death”. 

Bastian considers today’s society. He wonders if we’ve reached “peak comfort”. But we have “diminishing returns”. He remembers hiking for days in Chile and coming upon a place where you could buy warm beer and sit in a smelly spring: “It was heaven.” A clear psychological guide to real happiness.

(Penguin, £9.99)


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