Subtitled “A Celebration of Simple Pleasures. Living the Danish way.”
Charlotte Abrahams is a freelance writer who specialises in design and the applied arts. I know that, because I read it on her own website, charlotteabrahams.com but I would know that even more so after reading Hygge*, her own distinctive take on the Danish concept that swept the nation of Britain in September and is sweeping the world as we speak.
Charlotte quite openly says in the introduction that she is not Danish, that she has never lived in Denmark and that her trip to Denmark was cold and damp (“It is on the same latitude as Glasgow,” she writes, “and, soft southerner that I am, I have never been tempted to go there in winter.”) So, why has she written about hygge?
Well, in the Guardian Article, “The Hygge Conspiracy” by Charlotte Higgins there is a telling paragraph,
For each of these authors, the idea of writing about hygge was unexpected – Wiking told me his friends were amazed that anyone thought he could get a whole book out of the concept. Abrahams was actually hoping to write a book about running, but she set about putting together a proposal: she had heard of hygge, but not given it much thought. (When I visited her at home in the Cotswolds, later, she confessed that candles gave her migraines.)
Charlotte Abrahams, it appears, has rather luckily fallen into hygge by virtue of the fact she is a freelance writer with mates in publishing looking for a hygge book to fill a void they created! If only we were all so lucky!!
Having said that, she does write about her own experience of hygge well. She never admits to being a hygge expert, only to trying to use the principles of hygge in her own life, and calls it her ‘hygge experiment’. Her love for, and knowledge of, Scandi design and interiors is clear in the book, which is illustrated with clean, cool photographs of tables, desks and Poul Henningsen lights. Indeed, almost a third of the book is devoted to a discussion of how Danish design builds hygge, in a section that never acknowledges that hygge should be possible irrespective of surroundings since it is about people and small pleasures, rather than being irritated by the plastic patio doors and the lack of clear, pared down bare floors.
The book divides rather nicely into three sections: The first, Hygge by Design, is full of descriptions and history of Danish mid-century design classics. The second section, Hygge Living starts with a look at Charlotte’s life in the past and now through a hyggely lens. She looks at her childhood, her marriages and subsequent divorces, her grown up children. It’s quite intimately personal, quite soul-baring, which is brave. Hygge for the Soul also starts with a look at what hygge is and how it relates to Charlotte’s personal circumstances. In each of these sections it is the final practical application areas that rescue the book from being just an autobiography and give a hygge fiend something to absorb.
These two sections, How to Hygge: Living and How to Hygge: Soul are, for me, the best parts of the book. In Living, the advice is clearly set out, the subheadings in bold type followed by a paragraph of clear explanation without personal input. There’s nothing sensationally new here, just good, clear ideas on making hygge part of your life. I especially like that she hasn’t fallen into the “cup of tea on the couch” approach to hygge, but that family and friends play a big part in her hyggely advice to people.
How to hygge: Soul is my favourite part of the whole book. It gives three short chapters on each of these;
- Give yourself a Break
- Notice your downtime
- Celebrate the simple
Nothing complex, nothing difficult, just plain and simple advice that encourages you to rest within yourself and be open to happiness hygge style… contentment, not euphoria.
If you are new to hygge and in search of a book that explains it well… this isn’t that book. You’d do better with Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, or possibly The Art of Hygge by Johnny Jackson and Elias Larsen. Charlotte’s book is for the person who has already discovered hygge and now wants to see how it applies to other lives. You know the basics, you may even be able to say what is hyggely in your own life, or what its impact has been on you. Now you need to check whether you need to change course, tweak your journey, hygge up or down the ladder. That’s when you need to read this book.
I wish Charlotte had been able to write her book on running. I am sure she really loves that. With hygge, I’d love to know is she still feeling hyggely, or has it fallen out of her life as quickly as she adopted it? That sounds mean, I suppose, but this book has something missing from it that makes it too…. well, mannered, or structured I think. Something missing. Could it possibly be a love for hygge, rather than taking it on as an experiment? It’s sad…. please, Trapeze, can Charlotte write about her running now?
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* I bought this book myself, it wasn’t sent to me or a request for a review given. All opinions are entirely my own and not influenced by any outside agency. Although if Trapeze or any other publisher would like a book actually about How to Hygge the British Way by someone who likes hygge, I’m more than welcome to oblige.