If you could take a pill to guarantee instant happiness, would you take it?
In Lucie Britsch’s Sad Janet, the titular character dives into the world of cosmetic psychiatry when a pill comes to market that will guarantee a happy Christmas, and maybe a world free of depression entirely. But Janet is okay with being sad–she leans into it as part of her identity, and this darkly comic novel explores how we tend to overlook that taking care of your mental health also means allowing yourself to be upset, angry, or just anything other than happy.
Janet is a complicated character, with complicated relationships–she works at a dog shelter but is constantly working to shake off the anxiety that she hasn’t ‘done enough’ with her life yet. Her family and boyfriend are pressuring her to take the pills for a happy Christmas, but it becomes obvious their plan is more for their benefit than hers. All the while, she’s haunted by the constant ads for the Christmas pills, with stories of the pharma executive inspired to make the pill to cheer his melancholy wife, “because we all want a happy Christmas”. Britsch does a great job skewering the corporatisation of holidays, the marketing of medications, and the oft-overbearing power of the British stiff upper lip.
This is an extremely acquired taste book, with very macabre, cutting humour, and an unsettling and unlikeable narrator. I loved it, but that’s no pressure for you to. In my opinion, this book will probably appeal most to those who can relate to Janet in some way–i.e. if you’ve experienced mental healh struggles before and know what it’s like to endure suggestions to “try yoga” and assorted other overnight-fixes. It reminded me a lot of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which quickly became one of my favourite books when I read it, although I understand why it’s divisive. But if you’re looking for a read that will challenge you and stick in your head–this just might be it.