Author: Tessa Hadley
Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / British / Contemporary / 1970s / 1920s / Relationships / Family / Marriage / Romantic Love / Class Differences)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (11/20/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked to love.
Did I finish?: I inhaled them.
One-sentence summary: Twelve sharp, sad, moody stories of relationships -- good ones, bad ones, broken ones, successful ones -- set between the now and the early 1900s.
Do I like the cover?: I'm on the fence about it -- it's pretty, but I don't know if it captures the mood of the stories, which are sadder. Rainier.
I'm reminded of...: Jane Bowles, Daphne Du Maurier, Valerie Laken
First line: 'The winter after her brother killed himself, Ally got a job at a writers' centre near her parents' house, helping out with the admin in the office.', from 'She's the One'.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like short stories, very British-y fiction, moody gems that can be inhaled in a half hour.
Why did I get this book?: I'd heard a lot of buzz about Hadley's previous novel, The London Train, and was curious!
Review: I have to confess, when I saw the blurb from the San Francisco Chronicle on the cover -- "An acknowledged master of limning the Chekhovian mysteries of experience." -- I kind of panicked. I know Chekhov is great, but isn't The Seagull super obscure and boring? I'm pretty sure I know what 'limning' might mean, but needless to say, I was a bit daunted to start.
I needn't have worried! While these stories are quiet in a way, they aren't boring or obscure. They're moody and sad, poignant and romantic, bittersweet and heartbreaking, frustrating and expansive. Hadley's writing is pretty at times -- ("The wind is tearing scraps of cloud in a fitfully gleaming sky, and combing through the twigs of the hornbeam trees (the trees are another difference between this street and his), setting them springing and dancing like whips.", from 'The Trojan Prince') -- and sharp at other times, like 'In the Cave', six pages that articulated perfectly the disappointment of not being in love.
Some of the stories are historical -- set in the '20s or the '70s -- while others are ambigu-contemporary. All are about relationships in some way, and usually about the way those relationships fail one or both people. The New Yorker has the entirety of 'Married Love', the titular first story of this volume, online; you can get a sense of Hadley's writing style and subject through this story, which I found captivating and maddening. My favorite story might have been 'The Trojan Prince', about a young man in 1920 who decides to befriend his wealthier second cousin for a nebulous, un-articulated reason and instead finds he's less enamored of her than he expected.
I inhaled this volume over the past weekend -- there are twelve gems in this book -- and it was perfect for kicking me out of my reading funk. These sad snapshots of love and life were a kind of escape -- I was grateful for my own happier relationships and caught up in the whirlwind of the ones contained in the book -- and I'm still thinking about these stories with a mix of sadness and longing.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Married Love to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 12/7.