Published by Harper on March 4, 2014
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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Clever Girl is an 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, from one of Britain’s leading literary lights—Tessa Hadley—the author of the New York Times Notable Books Married Love and The London Train.
Like Alice Munro and Colm Tóibin, Tessa Hadley brilliantly captures the beauty, innocence, and irony of ordinary lives—an ability to transform the mundane into the sublime that elevates domestic fiction to literary art.
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 English woman named Stella. Unfolding in a series of snapshots, Tessa Hadley’s moving novel follows Stella from the shallows of childhood, growing up with a single mother in a Bristol bedsit in the 1960s, into the murky waters of middle age.
Clever Girl 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.
Clever Girl follows the life of Stella, the daughter of a single mother, from her childhood through middle age.
The writing is spectacular. Hadley’s prose made me feel as if I could see Stella’s history and her current life all at once: Stella as the young girl I met at the beginning of the novel, and at the same time, Stella as the adult narrator, a mother with two children.
However, I had issues with Stella’s relationship with her mother and stepfather, as well as her connection to a creepy teacher who turns into a dear friend. The dynamic between Stella and these characters shifted suddenly and without much (if any) explanation. I had trouble believing or understanding these shifts; a bit more detail would have remedied that.
This novel has a definite sense of ennui throughout, which may not be appealing to some readers. There is plenty of drama in Stella’s life, but plenty of ordinary as well. I think readers who enjoy character-driven novels (I couldn’t help but think of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings) will enjoy Clever Girl.