All the qualities that readers praised in The London Train are present in CLEVER GIRL, Tessa Hadley's brilliant new novel. It follows the story of Stella, from her childhood as the daughter of a single mother in a Bristol bedsit in the 1960s into the mysterious shallows of her middle age. The story is full of drama - violent deaths, an abrupt end to Stella's schooldays, two sons by different fathers who aren't around to see the boys grow up - but as ever it is her observation of ordinary lives, of the way men and women think and feel and relate to one another, that dazzles. Yes, you think. This is how it is.
I have not read Tessa Hadley before, but I do have more than one of her books on my wishlist. I have to say this novel was a bit different. It's written almost like a diary or a memoir where she is retelling her story. She was a young girl growing up in the 60's in England. Her father is dead (but she wonders if he really is) and her mom is single. Her mother eventually remarries and moves Stella to the suburbs. She always seems a bit of an outcast, but finds a place in the new generation. She becomes a sort of hippie. There is sex and drugs without commitment. She moves along in her life determined to not be her mother--to be more, because she is clever. She has two children without being married and no real support system in place. Stella eventually finds her way.
For me CLEVER GIRL is a mixed bag. Tessa Hadley had me thoroughly convinced with Stella's story. Completely believable. I can't say I liked Stella nor can I say I thought she made good decisions, but Tessa wrote a character who felt so true and Stella was always true to character. Not only was Stella's character real, but the world around her. I could almost feel the avocado shag carpeting under my feet as I read. I was transported into Stella's story. I didn't like Stella. I wanted better for Stella. But Stella carves out a life, which is true to her. It's hard to explain, you have to read it.
I felt I walked away from CLEVER GIRL understanding people a bit more. Her choices and life path are foreign to me, but she made me respect her differences. I feel like I understand a generation I didn't know before. For as much as I didn't like the story, I loved it. For as much as I didn't like Stella, I loved her. I recommend you take a trip to your local bookstore and open CLEVER GIRL up. This isn't a 'typical' read, not a 'typical' story. It is very good, but may not be for everyone. I do want to say I think you should take time and read a few chapters. CLEVER GIRL by Tessa Hadley is the exact reason why I became a book reviewer. I knew I wanted to experience new genres and writing techniques, I may have otherwise not tried. If you are looking for a more unique experience in your reading selections, than I recommend CLEVER GIRL.
What others are saying about CLEVER GIRL by Tessa Hadley:
“Hadley displays the keen insight and masterful portrayal of the domestic life for which she has become known.”
“One woman’s story comes to exemplify a whole era in this marvelous novel. Tessa Hadley writes with a poet’s attentiveness to language, and finds the profound and wondrous in the seemingly quietest of lives.”
“With Clever Girl, Tessa Hadley examines the blunt force of young adulthood. She deftly portrays this short stretch of time in which we make many of the most important decisions of our lives, all while driving under the influence of ignorance and inchoate sexuality.”
Sunday Times (London)
“Quietly brilliant….Hadley has always been adept at drawing out the unrecognisable from the everyday….Domestic fiction is often disparaged as less than serious, but Hadley demonstrates admirably that the genre can carry weight.”
Buy your copy of CLEVER GIRL by Tessa Hadley
Tuesday, March 4th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, March 5th: BookNAround
Saturday, March 8th: Books in the Burbs
Monday, March 10th: missris
Tuesday, March 11th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, March 12th: She’s Got Books On Her Mind
Thursday, March 13th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, March 14th: Write Meg
Monday, March 17th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, March 18th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, March 19th: A Novel Review
Thursday, March 20th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, March 24th: Between the Covers
Tuesday, March 25th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, March 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, March 27th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, March 31st: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, April 1st: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Wednesday, April 2nd: Sweet Tea and Lollipops
Thursday, April 3rd: The 3R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness