The Happiness Factory by Jo McMillan is published with Bluemoose Books.
Jo McMillan describes The Happiness Factory as a novel “about the families we run from and a love story to the families we make for ourselves – sometimes in the most unexpected places. It’s a portrait of a country as it emerges from a Maoist past into its roaring global present. And at its heart are fathers: the way they make you and mark you, and how they follow you, however far you go – even to the furthest edge of China.”
Mo Moore works as a live-in night-watch care assistant in a nursing home. Her life has been spent running from someone or something. As a child her mother packed up their bags taking Mo and herself away from the toxic marriage and home that Mo had only ever known. Her father was a tough man to live with, with quite a misogynistic view on life, leaving Mo’s mother with no choice but to leave the relationship and start afresh. With little money, and even less coping skills, life was tough for mother and daughter, leaving permanent emotional scars with Mo as she tried to traverse life as an adult. Always moving from one relationship to the next, Mo was very unsettled in her life when an unexpected turn of events landed on her doorstep. It was the last will and testament of her estranged, and now very dead father. Mo’s mother had passed away some time previously and her father, a successful sex-aid business man, left his estate to Mo, a windfall she had never considered would be hers.
Mo grew up familiar with the sex-aid business and now with finance to back her, she tentatively arrives at a plan, one that takes her on a very fortuitous, yet also very challenging, adventure to China.
The rural, mountainous village of Pingdi has been stripped of many of its workers who left the community looking for employment in the city. Mo spontaneously purchases an old factory there that has been struggling and her plan is simple. She intends to revert its fate and bring it back to its former glory as a successful manufacturer of quality sex-aids.
“Where the skin of the earth shudders into the foothills of the Shunhua mountains, in a clearing above the mist and fringed with frangipani, Mo Moore set up a factory which, to this day, makes happiness.
Actually, it makes sex aids. Her goods sell all around the globe, and her biggest buyer is a British high-street chain. The boxes say simply: Made in China. In fact, they come from the place where Mo made a family and that she still calls home, a place too small for any map – the tiny, teetering village of Pingdi…”
Initially Mo’s presence in the village is treated with suspicion. But Mo is unafraid of work and, with the right help, she starts to make progress, albeit baby steps. China is a country under strict governance with the laws of the land set in stone. Mo, a blow-in, with her Western attitudes and ways isn’t welcomed by the authorities and moves are made to remove her.
With an ultimatum in place, Mo must prove to the powers that be, and also to herself, that she’s got this. But Mo has always run away from a problem and, as doubt infiltrates her thoughts, Mo begins to wonder if it’s time to up sticks again.
Jo McMillan has lived a rather unorthodox life exposing her to a world that clearly impacted her views on life in all its eccentricities. In her writing, her observations and perception of society are very unique and in many cases quite beyond my understanding. Her insights on China and its people, in particular its women, are shocking and Chinese society’s mechanical approach to sex and family is bizarre and extremely formidable.
The Happiness Factory was admittedly a book that fell way outside of my comfort zone and one that I’m still processing if truth be told. Mo Moore is an unlikely heroine but yet she has a steel core born out of the struggles of youth and the damage done to her self-esteem by a domineering father who overshadowed her whole life.
The Happiness Factory is a quirky and unconventional read with a wondrous, and quite eccentric, cast of characters. If you are looking for something alternative to shake up your reading habits, then this might just be the book for you.
(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)
Order your copy online here.