Are you Hygge?
As a topic, Hygge has been trending for some while. With several books on the market I wondered: had we not reached peak Hygge? My editor had pushed Orion’s offering under the Trapeze imprint across his desk to me with the words ‘one for you, Jo I think – more a girl’s thing, all cakes and candles’.
This did not endear the book to me. Handsomely produced there were indeed artistic pictures with candles, cake and food of all sorts; also, furniture and rustic interiors. A quick check on author Charlotte Abrahams enhanced my prejudices. She is a style and design writer of considerable pedigree (St Martin’s, Guardian, FT, big selling book on wallpaper). My jealousy was piqued. Not only did the woman have class but she lived in Gloucestershire. From the less gentrified purlieus of Crouch End I prepared to sharpen my claws for an attack on this example of bourgeois pretension.
My own version of a hyggelig reading environment was my sofa, a large glass of wine and some lieder on the i-pod. Possibly this combination led me to an early realisation that here was a rather good book. It is very crisply and accessibly written. The voice is authoritative but personal. The author has done her homework. The subject has been researched and the sources documented. One feels one understands the concept and indeed, where the Danes are coming from. Their society is not perfect and half their marriages end in divorce but application of Hygge principles seems to be an agreeable way to mediate the tensions, conflicts and ugliness of the downsides in modern urban existence.
Interleaved with the interpretative style and helpful subject category narratives (Hygge by Design, Hygge Living, Hygge for the Soul) is an involving and disarming personal evocation of how the Hygge concept has influenced the writer’s life. A divorcee and mother of two almost adult boys our heroine (as she came to feel to me) grapples with her ambitions, passion for running and personal relationships. These last with some male members of her family are definitely not hyggelig. They need reparative work. On the positive side she is glad to sacrifice her habitual stern morning run in favour of a relaxed hour or so in bed with her boyfriend. This should encourage all of us striving to stay sane and youthful. Good sex is great therapy – and very Hygge.
Professional women (even when single parents) do not have an exclusive on anxiety and stress. Any day in Crouch End I can see women far more pressured than I. That said ‘be still my soul’ is a message I took from this intelligent and enjoyable book. Far from being another overwrought lifestyle and personal development manual it presents as a companionable yet practical reminder that life doesn’t have always to be lived in the fast lane – and we multi-tasking women of any age can and should, regularly Hyggefy ourselves along with those people we most value in our lives.
Hygge – a celebration of simple pleasures living the Danish way, Charlotte Abrahams, Trapeze/Orion Books; hardback £20, eBook £10.99