A much-lauded and Folio-nominated novel in verse that tells of an ordinary man's search for happiness
Patrick is still in love with his estranged wife. Returning with their son after a trip to an amusement park, he begs, one last time, to reconcile with her. When she refuses, he is driven to thoughtless desperation: a bottle of sleeping pills, a bottle of whisky. And in his dying dream, he revisits that theme park of childish desire.
There he finds the landscape - still garish and indulgent - has evolved. The attractions are religion, money and sex. The characters - costumed and acted - are transformed into Jefferson, Xunzi, Aristotle. And their purpose is to instruct Patrick in the pursuit of happiness throughout human history.
But Patrick can only answer with his own story. He remembers falling in love with Louise. Recalls the enlightenment of their youth and the banality of their family life. He tells of their marriage, how it came under strain after the birth of his son; how he cheated; the unravelling of all his joy. Yet still his love persists.
Beginning with the first line of Dante's Divine Comedy and taking Disneyworld, the Declaration of Independence and the canon of philosophy in its stride, What You Want is a literary feat: a novel written entirely in verse, depicting life in all its ordinariness. It gives voice to a new Everyman and brings forth an unparalleled modern epic.
Unlike any other book published this year, indeed this century . . . Dante, adultery, theme parks, psychotherapy - it's all here, but unjokily so, and one of the most moving things about the book is the unusual texture of its melancholy seriousness - Guardian
Moving, scary, funny, endlessly interesting and much the best book I have read this year. We have a Pushkin in our midst, with his gift of saying incredibly sad - and deep - things in bubbly and often ingenious verse - Spectator
The most daring novel to have appeared in English for decades . . . A Dantesque journey into marriage, theme parks and Freudian theory, it is written in rhyming couplets and needs to be read in sections, preferably aloud, late at night, and in the round - Times Literary Supplement
Forges something new. This is rather an extraordinary, even sublime, achievement . . . His work has a purity of purpose whose form both delights and teaches - Spectator
Subtly reminds one of Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach' and of T. S. Eliot . . . Masterly and moving - Telegraph
[Has] a sense of deep wisdom ... Truly moving and beautiful - Spectator
I loved What You Want ... Phipps is a hero ... beautiful, peculiar, and in the end very moving - Spectator
Mesmerising ... Intelligent, enjoyable and often profound - Spectator