Books by Tessa Hadley - Clever Girl, Late in the Day, Bad Dreams, Sunkstroke, The Past

Late in the Day

When I think about Late in the Day now I feel a tightening in my stomach, just as I had when reading this portrait of Zach and Lydia and Alex and Christine – it is so exquisitely, precisely drawn. Hadley teases out the nuances of the relationships that criss-cross between the two couples and the events that spiral out from Zach’s death at the beginning of the novel with such dexterity. The stories that well up from their earlier days in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties bring the seemingly cloudy present into sharp focus. Most of the novel is set between the back streets of Clerkenwell and North London, but it’s the scene in Venice that plays over and over in my head. 

Bad Dreams and Other Stories

My first experience reading Tessa Hadley was her beautiful, witchily true-to-life short story collection Bad Dreams. I was bowled over by how psychologically perceptive these stories were (something I later learned is sort of ‘her thing’; she’s ‘one of the most sympathetic, insightful observers of human nature working today’ Financial Times). My favourite story might be ‘Experience’, about a young woman who finds herself housesitting for a woman she barely knows. Boundaries break as she slips further than she should into her absent host’s life – in the process becoming strangely drawn to a thoroughly unlikeable man… It’s the perfect place to start for those unfamiliar with the wonderful world of Hadley’s writing.

The Past

I knew I was going to love The Past before I’d read even a word of it. Four grown-up siblings, whose lives have gone in different directions, are reunited for a holiday in their grandparents’ old house. What should be an idyllic summer in the home they spent much of their childhood inevitably turns into something more fraught. It’s the perfect set-up and showcases everything Tessa Hadley is brilliant at – the simmering tensions that surface when people are forced into close proximity after years apart, the decades-old secret resentments and unspoken alliances, and of course the pull the past has on us all… 

Sunstroke and Other Stories

More glorious short stories! And as ever with Tessa Hadley, apparently ordinary family life is somehow unsettled. Hadley seems a magician as she flits between viewpoints, sometimes in the space of a single sentence. She does this exceptionally well in the title story of this collection, ‘Sunstroke’. It’s a masterclass in the mess of relationships between husbands and wives, friends, husbands who are only friends because of their wives, the outsider. She is the best of short story writers, and so you know when she says ‘they tell each other everything, almost everything’ those last two words are going to mean something quite important – and of course they do…

Clever Girl

Being clever isn’t everything, as Stella finds out in this devastatingly good novel. Hadley is brilliant at capturing the gaps in between our dreams and reality and just as Stella seemingly escapes from a dull life with her mother and stepfather into the arms of Valentine, she finds her life not her own again when she gets pregnant and Val leaves her. This isn’t the last time that Stella will find her own actions almost irrelevant in determining the course of her life and in a world where self-determinism and a plan can often seem all-consuming, this is a refreshing perspective on what it means to live, to have dreams and – when you do achieve them, find they aren’t as expected.  

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