February’s ‘book to look forward to’

Late in the day. Tessa Hadley (Cape).  Downloaded on kindle 29th January £9.99

“A sudden bereavement reconfigures the lives and loves of two long-married couples’.

Note: Reviewed by Andrew Motion in the Guardian Review issue no 58, 23 February 2019.

With no real grounds for thinking so, I was looking forward to reading this book.  One of the things I most enjoy in books of any genre is when attention is given to the relationships between characters and the impact upon those relationships when something unexpected and significant happens.  A book where the focus is on long term knowing and the complexity of group dynamics seemed to me to have the potential for a delicious, cosy-up-with-a-cuppa type enjoyable way to spend time. 

The book is indeed about the complexity of relationships, which are left somewhat anchorless by the death of a central figure in the group; Individual relationships fray and the group dynamic shifts uncomfortably.  The stability and reliability of the group become jangled and rifts and crevices in the relationships open.

Hadley tells the story through the characters thoughts and in their interactions with each other and this is where I found the book difficult.

There are a lot of characters who Hadley knows well and they are allowed to ‘speak for themselves’, but I found it a challenge to work out who was who. 

I read a Kindle edition so I cannot give a page number but at 17% in I noted seven different characters mentioned on a single page.  At that early part of the book, I had not yet been able to gain a picture or a voice for  – or warmth for – any of the indistinguishable personalities.  Unfortunately, I never did.  The books seemed to me to be a middle class based narrative, and perhaps this explains why I felt on the outside of the story, unable to gain a foothold into the unfamiliar environment in which the experiences took place.  I found I could not care less for any of them.  Reading this story was somewhat underwhelming.

Despite this, it is still written beautifully with language used delicately and with subtlety.  The themes of the book – loss, change and how these impact on the very essence of us are important but perhaps a little neglected in the busyness of all the ‘stuff’ going on around the themes and through the voices of the characters.