Thursday, March 13, 2014

Clever Girl: A Novel by Tessa Hadley

(Thank you to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book!)
about book:

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.

my thoughts:

I'm a huge fan of all things British.  Heck, I went to grad school in England to study literature (and to experience life in Great Britain).  So, I absolutely love reading books by British authors, especially contemporary ones.  When I heard about Tessa Hadley's book, Clever Girl, I jumped at the chance to read it.  How could I not, when I had loved her novel, The London Train, so much - here's my review of it.  Unfortunately, I wasn't as mesmerized by her storytelling as I was last time.

Clever Girl is about Stella, a single mother of two living with her own mother and grandmother.  The story is about her life - from childhood to present day.  We get to see all of the gradual changes that occur within a person's lifetime through Stella's eyes.  The nitty-gritty everyday experiences that actually move a person's life forward - those are the main events within this quiet, slow-moving story.  And, I love that subtle beauty of the ordinary that Hadley focuses on in her stories.  Her writing is poetic and breathtaking - this is an author with immense writing talent.  Plus, she has this knack for creating a British feel to her stories.  You not only get transported to England whilst reading her work, but you are smack dab in the culture and lifestyle - its amazing.

However, the detached manner in which Stella shares her life story is too disconnected.  Told through vignettes, we get a feel for Stella's early years and so forth, but at the same time, huge gaps elicit a, "What happened here?  Something's missing." type of reaction.  Also, Stella is not an easy woman to root for.  She is manipulative and extremely unlikable.  I found myself more taken with Hadley's words than Stella's story.  I'm not sure what this says about the book, but for me it was definitely an interesting read.  To love the writing, but to be indifferent towards the characters and story lines was definitely not what I was expecting.

I would recommend this novel to fans of Hadley's writing, and fans of British literature.  You will either enjoy this book immensely or not - either way, you will LOVE the writing. 

Here's the link to the TLC Book Tour schedule for: Clever Girl
Thank you to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book!


Meg @ write meg! said...

I appreciate what you mean about being more taken with Hadley's words than Stella's story -- Hadley is such a fantastic author, it was hard not to be sucked in by her language! Stella was often unlikeable, but she ultimately redeemed herself for me. Despite everything, I finished Clever Girl feeling satisfied by how everything had gone down! I do agree that I liked The London Train better, though.

A Bookish Way of Life said...

Meg, exactly! Hadley just has a way with the written word that is so engaging and transformative. She knows how to use words to her advantage - the images and atmospheres she creates are amazing!! The London Train was definitely a better read :)

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm glad to see that you enjoyed the writing even if the book even if the story wasn't a favorite for you.

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

Meredith said...

You went to grad school in London?! How did I not know this? Am so jealous, and happy for you at the same time. One day I'll study literature, even if it has to be in the states. There just wasn't time as I pursued my teaching and psychology degrees. xo

A Bookish Way of Life said...

Heather, thanks!

Bellezza, yes I studied in England and LOVED it!!! And, I hope you get to study literature at some point in your life - you would love it!

Vintage Reading said...

Thanks for this good review, it's been on my tbr for a while. I read a collection of her short stories which I liked.

A Bookish Way of Life said...

VR, thanks! Hadley's writing is fantastic - I definitely need to check out that book of short stories :)

Alise said...

So jealous that you did grad school in England! That sounds fantastic!

I struggled with the disconnection between sections as well. I think you pinpointed the problem when you said Stella is difficult to root for. She keeps making terrible decisions, but I guess that's what makes the story so human.

Glad we were on the tour together!