Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley has written three collections of short stories and seven novels, the most recent being Late in the Day.

Jean Stafford’s Pessimism

Tessa Hadley, 18 June 2020

When​ Jean Stafford published Boston Adventure in 1944, at the age of 29, Life magazine called her ‘the most brilliant of new fiction writers’. The novel sold an impressive 380,000 copies and she went on to publish two more, The Mountain Lion (1947) and The Catherine Wheel (1952). Throughout the 1950s, her short stories were a fixture in the New Yorker. She published nothing...

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley, 20 February 2020

Ata certain point in my reading life, aged 12 or 13, I promoted myself to the adult section of my local library, climbing up three wide steps covered in yellow linoleum. There, not knowing how to choose, I gravitated to Elizabeth Bowen – along with others, including Compton Mackenzie and Hugh Walpole, of whose writing I can’t now recall even the faintest flavour. I’d...

Olive Kitteridge, Again

Tessa Hadley, 19 November 2019

InOlive, Again, her seventh book, Elizabeth Strout returns to her character Olive Kitteridge, a maths teacher in small-town Maine. A number of the chapters in Strout’s first, eponymous book about the character had already appeared in print as short stories before the novel’s publication in 2008, so that Olive Kitteridge is really half a novel, half a collection of stories;

Michael Ondaatje

Tessa Hadley, 8 November 2018

If you took​ only the subject matter of Michael Ondaatje’s novels into account, you would expect him to be an austere and even punishing writer. He chooses the darkest material, chronicles passages of life that would test the most resilient cheerfulness. Coming through Slaughter (1976) is loosely based on the tragic life of the jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden, who died in an asylum in New...

Iris Origo

Tessa Hadley, 24 May 2018

Iris Origo​ wrote biographies of an Italian poet, an Italian saint, a merchant from Prato, and Byron’s Italian mistress; her bestselling book was the diary she kept of her experiences on her estate in the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany during the Second World War. Everything in her life and writing was inflected by her relationship with the idea of Italy and its past (of course it was...

Pamela Hansford Johnson

Tessa Hadley, 21 January 2016

Pamela Hansford who​? When I asked friends and family, they vaguely knew the name but couldn’t place it – until I said she was married to C.P. Snow and then they vaguely remembered that too. They were much clearer about him: the two cultures argument, and Leavis’s vituperation, and some novels revolving around Cambridge colleges. Someone had read one of those novels long...

Pat Barker

Tessa Hadley, 19 November 2015

Pat Barker​ has written about war, mostly the First World War, again and again. In her new novel, Noonday, the last book in a trilogy, she takes characters forged in the first war, in Life Class (2007) and Toby’s Room (2012), on into the second – or into the second phase of one long conflict. They are middle-aged in the London Blitz. Why the preoccupation? The men and women who...

Elizabeth Jane Howard

Tessa Hadley, 6 February 2014

Elizabeth Jane Howard had been a novelist for forty years before she published The Light Years, the first volume of the Cazalet chronicles, in 1990. The fifth and final volume, All Change, was published in 2013, and she died in January this year, aged ninety. Her stepson Martin Amis advised her to embark on the Cazalet books, when she was hesitating between possibilities. It was good advice...

Women Reading

Tessa Hadley, 26 September 2013

Is there such a thing as ‘the woman reader’ – as a category, that is, suitable for study? ‘Readers’ constitute a real category, and ‘women’ do. But Belinda Jack believes that reading women are a sisterhood under the fancy dress. For her ‘history of women’s reading’ she has assembled potted biographies of women readers and writers...

1960s Oxford

Tessa Hadley, 5 April 2012

There’s a fascinating anthropological study to be written about Oxford undergraduates of the 1960s – or perhaps this book is it. Roger Garfitt in his daffodil-yellow pinstripe suit and silver-topped cane – mingling with the other ‘heads’, boiling up asthma drugs for a hit, talking of samsara and Kropotkin – seems a type as exotic as an Elizabethan dandy:


Per Petterson

Tessa Hadley, 18 November 2010

The Norwegian writer Per Petterson’s best-known novel, Out Stealing Horses (2005), won praise and prizes, and was an international bestseller. It opens with Trond, a man in his sixties who has retreated to longed for solitude in the woods, encountering another man late at night outside his house – the second man is worried because his dog keeps running off (there are wolves in the...

Jane Gardam

Tessa Hadley, 11 March 2010

The novel at any given moment has a special relationship with the recent past: worlds contiguous to its own, at the farther reaches of living memory, not yet floated off into history. Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn and William Trevor’s Love and Summer address themselves with urgency to 1950s Ireland, not out of nostalgia, but because something needs to be understood, for the...

Daniyal Mueenuddin

Tessa Hadley, 23 July 2009

A number of the stories in this collection cluster around the figure of K.K. Harouni, an elderly landowner in 1970s Pakistan, with a big house in Lahore and farms in the Punjabi countryside, just as Harouni himself exists at the centre of a far-reaching network of subordinates and dependants. In some of the stories he’s a remote master, viewed from the perspective of the people who work...

Carlos Fuentes

Tessa Hadley, 12 February 2009

In ‘Eternal Father’, the last story in Happy Families, three sisters meet for a candlelit reunion around their father’s coffin, in a sunken park in Mexico City, ‘a cool, shaded urban depression in the midst of countless avenues and mute skyscrapers’. The father died a rich man. We aren’t told how he made his money, although picking up themes from the other...

Claire Keegan

Tessa Hadley, 24 January 2008

In the title story of Claire Keegan’s second collection, Walk the Blue Fields, a priest is officiating at a wedding in rural Ireland: the bride is late, the organist has to play the Bach toccata twice, ‘a thrill of doubt’ is ‘spreading through the pews’. She turns up eventually, and the ceremony goes off all right, but an intimation of trouble has been set...

Alice Munro

Tessa Hadley, 25 January 2007

Alice Munro doesn’t write much about her writing: there are only a few interviews, hardly any essays or journalistic pieces, and we don’t catch her holding forth about her literary likes and dislikes. But here in her new collection, The View from Castle Rock, she speaks to us directly, first in a brief introduction explaining the way the book has been put together, and then in a piece, ‘No Advantages’, in which she describes in her own person the researches into her family history that have resulted in some of the stories that follow.

Kiran Desai

Tessa Hadley, 5 October 2006

In The Inheritance of Loss, her second novel, Kiran Desai addresses herself to an Indian culture in which globalisation isn’t imagined but experienced, whether in exile abroad or as a result of painful social and cultural displacements within the country itself. This makes the novel sound rather gloomily earnest, but Desai’s scepticism and fearfulness are expressed as a dark...

Deborah Eisenberg

Tessa Hadley, 17 August 2006

Words at first fail us, when events are too extreme to be caught in subtle nets. Literary language reaches for outrage and finds hollowed-out forms; straining to be adequate to horror, it is all too easy to sound schmaltzy, or sanctimonious, or quivery with frisson. So the title story of Deborah Eisenberg’s new collection approaches its subject with reticence. The narrative, shared...

Helen Simpson

Tessa Hadley, 5 January 2006

Parenthood happens in sections. The son’s Bildungsroman is the mother’s series of short stories: no sooner has he stopped being the free woman’s dilemma (to reproduce or not to reproduce) than he’s her fat sucking baby; then he’s a needy toddler, then a child bonding and fighting with siblings, then a boy thinking for himself, drawing away from closeness. And so...

Dan Jacobson

Tessa Hadley, 20 October 2005

‘If anthropology is obsessed with anything,’ Clifford Geertz says, ‘it is with how much difference difference makes.’ The same could be said of the novel. And novelists’ curiosity, like anthropologists’, aims not to solve or explain the puzzle of lives lived, but to seize and transcribe it. In his new book, All for Love, Dan Jacobson captures a story from...

Marilynne Robinson

Tessa Hadley, 21 April 2005

“The most extraordinary and best of the stories in Gilead are to do with the quarrels Ames remembers between his father and grandfather; these are the hub of the novel’s arguments about the transforming power of religious faith. The grandfather was a passionate abolitionist, ‘afire with old certainties’, who fought alongside John Brown; he is another one of those disturbing innocents, impossible to live with and yet leaving the mark of his intensity on everyone he touches. When he was 16 he had a vision of the Lord in irons, holding out his arms to him, and knew he had to go to Kansas, where they were voting whether to enter the Union slave or free; he pitied his son, who was temporising and reasonable: ‘That’s just what kills my heart . . . That the Lord never came to you. That the seraphim never touched a coal to your lips.’”

Richler’s happy families

Tessa Hadley, 3 February 2005

We’re encouraged by the Romantics and the Freudians to think that childhood is when we are most ‘natural’ and least broken-in to cultural norms. However, in childhood we are also most intensely subject to the familial culture which surrounds us; the world can be interpreted only in the language and according to the value system we are given by parents and relatives and at...

Kate Atkinson’s latest

Tessa Hadley, 23 September 2004

The world of Kate Atkinson’s novels is distinctive. This isn’t because it’s confined to a particular place (Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1995, her first novel, was set in York, her others in ‘Arden’, Dundee and Cambridge), although geography is important, and she is precise about history, socio-economics, climate, architecture and even street-plans....

Anne Tyler

Tessa Hadley, 18 March 2004

At the beginning of her short story ‘Jakarta’, Alice Munro describes two young women who choose a spot on a beach because it’s sheltered and because ‘they want to be out of sight of a group of women who use the beach every day. They call these women the Monicas.’ The Monicas have two or three or four children apiece; they build a temporary domestic encampment on the...

Tessa Hadley

Adam Mars-Jones, 15 August 2019

The autumnal title​ of Tessa Hadley’s new novel, almost in the resigned mode of Barbara Pym, is both truthful and deceptive. Relationships of love and friendship with deep roots in the...

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