Synopses & Reviews
Like Alice Munro and Colm Tóibín, Tessa Hadley possesses the remarkable ability to transform the mundane into the sublime — an eye for the beauty, innocence, and irony of ordinary lives that elevates domestic fiction to literary art. In Clever Girl
, she offers the indelible story of one woman's life, unfolded in a series of beautifully sculpted episodes that illuminate an era, moving from the 1960s to today.
Written with the celebrated precision, intensity, and complexity that have marked her previous works, Clever Girl is a powerful exploration of family relationships and class in modern life, witnessed through the experiences of an Englishwoman named Stella. Unfolding in a series of snapshots, Tessa Hadley's involving and moving novel follows Stella from childhood, growing up with her single mother in a Bristol bedsit, into the murky waters of middle age.
It is a story vivid in its immediacy and rich in drama — violent deaths, failed affairs, broken dreams, missed chances. Yet it is Hadley's observations of everyday life, her keen skill at capturing the ways men and women think and feel and relate to one another, that dazzles, pressing us to exclaim with each page, Yes, this is how it is.
"Hadley's (The London Train) latest is told from the point of view of Stella, a lower-middle-class British girl born in the 1950s, whose experiences coming of age mirror the broader cultural development of her times. The child of divorced parents, Stella is clever in school and seems destined to go on to a university. But after being abandoned by a boyfriend and discovering she is pregnant (her son, Luke, eventually goes on to be a teacher), Stella's life takes a series of left turns. While working as a waitress, she falls in with a group of art students, and eventually goes to live in their commune, where she gets pregnant again by a new boyfriend who's tragically killed before the baby is born. After a dispiriting stint as a married businessman's mistress, Stella returns to school and resumes the trajectory of her waylaid life. The simplicity of its story is one of this novel's great strengths: the uncluttered plot allows for Stella's pains, humiliations, and instances of self-discovery to be confidently inhabited and rendered with emotional precision. Looking back over her life, Stella can be wistful about people and places ('Sometimes I'm nostalgic for that old intricate decay, as if it was a vanished subtler style'), but tellingly, she is often at a loss to explain or precisely remember her motivations, 'as if a switch flicked between two versions of myself, I suddenly wasn't all right.' In the end, this carefully wrought novel transcends mere character study, offering up Stella's story as a portrait of how accidents and happenstance can cohere into a life." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Tessa Hadley is the author of four highly praised novels: Accidents in the Home, which was long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award; Everything Will Be All Right; The Master Bedroom; and The London Train, which was a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of two short-story collections, Sunstroke and Married Love, both of which were New York Times Notable Books as well. Her stories appear regularly in the New Yorker. She lives in London.