What is Joy?

To celebrate his having notched up a seven-figure Twitter following, Paulo Coelho is going to give a signed book to the three people who send him the best answer to the question “What is joy?”

It’s a dark, damp, chilly Friday 5am in North London, so why not spend a moment contemplating joy, especially when incited to by someone who lives in Rio de Janeiro?

I’ve always thought that Amazing Grace sounds like the name of a contortionist, in which case, Joy’s probably her older and less flexible sister. You can picture her, all bespectacled and buttoned-up, clutching a volume of Nabokov’s short stories to her be-cardiganed chest, and as she strides primly to the bus stop, errand running to change her library book and buy crumpets.

Joy sounds kind of amazing too.

When Amazing Grace performs, Joy sits at the back of the nightclub, sipping a cream soda and thinking about Flaubert. She applauds gently while her sister unwinds her legs through a sequence of impossible conundrums. She’s proud of Grace, and never misses a gig, but finds it difficult to concentrate for long on the spindling and swinging, the unkinking and the undulating.

Her mind wanders to Emma Bovary and Rodolphe, Valmont and Madame de Tourvel, revelling in her secret sweaty imaginings and the jolting little skitters they cause in her heart.

Afterwards they share a drink in Grace’s drafty dressing room, perched on a packing trunk, and Joy asks interested questions about how it feels when her foot’s behind her ear, or her shoulder’s turned around backwards.

It feels mad, Grace tells her. Reckless, like your whole body might fall apart at any moment and your bones might strain and splinter leaving you a pool of skin and giblets. It feels dangerous and exhilarating, like you’re standing on a treacherous ledge, suspended by no more than the elastic of your knickers.

And even though she can’t see the appeal of putting your own toe in your ear, Joy has a very good idea of what she’s talking about.

That’s my answer. Do you think I’ll win?

Send yours to Paulo Coehelo (and me if you like). You’ve got til about 7pm this evening to get them in.

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~ by David Thorley on November 26, 2010.

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