Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

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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.