Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Clever Girl," by Tessa Hadley

How I admire and savor the ultra-competent, beautifully etched writing of certain contemporary English and Irish women writers. Their writing is cool and controlled, yet somehow gets at the essence of both daily life and the larger themes in life. These writers include Anne Enright, Penelope Lively, and Emma Donoghue (now living in Canada), among others. And Tessa Hadley! Hadley’s books include the novels “Accidents in the Home,” “The Master Bedroom,” and “The London Train,” as well as the story collection “Married Love,” all of which I have read, enjoyed, and stood slightly in awe of. Hadley also often publishes stories in The New Yorker. I have just finished reading her new novel, “Clever Girl” (Harper, 2013), and it is as good as her earlier work, maybe better. It tells the story of one young woman growing up in England in the late 1950s and onward. The novel provides snapshots of Stella’s life at various critical points. She lives, she loves, she aspires, she struggles, she works, she tries alternative lifestyles, she has children, she loses loved ones to flight or death, she goes through crises and self-doubt, and she settles into her life. She, like so many young women, plans to live a life very different from and much more exciting than her mother’s, yet somehow ends up reproducing many aspects of that life. But she does so with her own twists and turns, and her participation in her own time in history. In a sense there is nothing unusual about her life, but that is the point, I think. Each of us is, like Stella, both ordinary and extraordinary. Hadley perfectly captures this woman’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, as well as the changes in England during the second half of the 20th century. Her writing is impeccable. Part of the pleasure of reading Hadley is knowing you are in such good hands that you can trust her wherever she goes in her writing.

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