Review: Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley

About the book, Clever Girl

Clever Girl

• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: Harper (March 4, 2014)

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.

Buy a copy, and start reading

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About the author, Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley

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.

My Thoughts

I have to confess, I had a bit of struggle getting into Clever Girl, not because the writing was bad – it’s not – Tessa Hadley is a detailed and compelling author – but because of the formatting. You see, instead of quotation marks, dashes are used throughout to set off dialogue. (Note: my review is based on an ARC, and I’m not certain if that formatting remained in the final version.). It’s not a structure I’m unfamiliar with – a lot of English novels use it (and a few American ones, as well), though it’s not something you often see in contemporary literature – and at times I found myself confused about exactly who was speaking because there was a hard-return that hadn’t translated, or because I’d missed a dash.

Formatting aside, however, Clever Girl really captured my attention and imagination. I love that the lead character, Stella, was so well drawn, so specific, that even when she meets a neighbor as a child her observation is that the other girl doesn’t have high standards in selecting friends.

It’s this snarky observational style that ultimately won me over, possibly because it’s similar to my own style (I was much snarkier as a child than I am now, by the way, and I was also an only child of a single mother through my formative years.)

It’s difficult for me to review this other than to point out that this is Stella’s story, told by Stella, and while many people think writing an entire novel in first person is easy, I promise you it’s NOT. But Tessa Hadley makes it seem easy, and I finished the book feeling as though I’d made a new friend in Stella, and hoping my standards were up to hers.

Goes well with Curry and a really crisp hard cider.

TLC Book Tours

This post is part of a book tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For the entire tour schedule, click here.

2 thoughts on “Review: Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley

  1. “snarky observational style” sounds like a lot of fun to read! I’m really glad you liked it! Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. Pingback: Tessa Hadley, author of Clever Girl, on tour March 2014 | TLC Book Tours

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