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An ability to transform the mundane into the sublime that elevates domestic fiction to literary artWritten 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 fol Nothing is WastedDomestic Fiction Not something that I had recognized as a separate genre until the London Sunday Times reviewer mentioned it on the back cover of this highly satisfying novel The chronicle of ordinary lives But I realize that it is something that I greatly enjoy and a genre in which Tessa Hadley is an unassuming master Looking back at my review of her recent story collection Married Love I noted that for Hadley the true story lies less in events than the ellipses between them the way people move on with their lives flawed or ordinary though they might be While reading I was aware slightly apologetically that this was not an important novel with grand themes just small lives lived out of the limelight four star territory at most But Hadley reminds you that even small lives can be lived large and in this sense the novel is large indeed In a touching scene at the end of the book the heroine an Englishwoman named Stella revisits a childhood friend she hasn t seen for over thirty years hearing his regrets she is about to tell him that nothing is ever wasted And for her it isn t even though her life has taken many turns that she did not expectThe novel traces Stella s life from 5 to 50 A lower middle class girl from Bristol raised by a single mother she goes through all the usual passages childhood friendships adolescent love university odd jobs and eventual profession marriage and motherhood though not necessarily in that order There is one moment fairly early in the book when you realize that the course of her expectations will be disrupted For a moment it seems arbitrary almost a clich But then you realize that life itself is arbitrary and that clich s only seem so because they occur so often Time and again Hadley brings Stella to the edge of a situation you think you have seen before only to do something unexpected with it not necessarily some startling twist but unexpected simply because the course she takes is honest and uniuely hers There are ten chapters each starts with a little jump in time from the one before a few months a year a decade Ellipses as I say Hadley has no need to connect the dots there might be some rich stories there too but what she gives us is already enough to illuminate an ordinary but fully dimensioned life I am struck by her willingness to leave loose ends untied but also by her ability to turn things around a difficult marriage becoming a contented one for instanceIt occurs to me that the domestic fiction genre is especially English Perhaps there are some other practitioners like Alice Munro in Canada or the Swiss Peter Stamm but the names that come to my mind are predominantly British Penelope Lively Margaret Foster Maggie O Farrell even in some aspects Kate Atkinson There is also a particular pleasure here for a British reader to return to familiar objects Penguin bars green wellies a girl s hair the colour of conkers chestnuts and past ages from the sixties into the new millennium There is for instance a wonderful description of a cafe where Stella works including posters pinned to a noticeboard advertising yoga classes or feminist reading groups or political meetings And through it all there is Hadley s uietly perfect language and powers of observation So let me end with Stella as a child surprised to be the first to wake first in the house and venturing outside the rest of her journey you can read for yourself But today I couldn t hear a sound in the house I was the first to break the skin of the day stepping out on the lino which struck its frozen cold up through the warm soles of my feet When I parted the curtains and looked out the familiar scrappy back landscape trellis and dustbins and old bikes and crazy paving stepping stones was glazed in sunshine gleaming from its dip into the night

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Clever Girl

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 TrainLike Alice Munro and Colm Tóibin Tessa Hadley brilliantly captures the beauty innocence and irony of ordinary lives I loved Clever Girl which tells the story of Stella a working class girl from Bristol from her years as a child of a single mother through when she is about 50 and a mother herself Her story told in episodes is a lovely uiet character study I did not want to say goodbye to her when the book ended This blurb about the book says a lot of why I liked it 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 Stella s story demonstrates that as a friend of mine likes to say life is curly not lived in a straight line She has many experiences that could have defeated her but she just kept going believing at some level that she truly was a clever girlI had such a great feeling at the end of this book it left me feeling optimistic Highly recommended

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Lows 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 ageClever 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 A uiet deceptively simple novel about one woman s journey through life family upheaval love academia and unplanned motherhood Brilliant despite or because of its reticenceIn that its self contained chapters at times seem to constitute a collection of linked stories it brings to mind Alice Munro s Lives of Girls and Women which also plots a young woman s course through discrete chapters But if there is one book this reminds me most of it is John Williams s Stoner the American campus novel originally published in 1965 that became last year s surprise bestseller Like William Stoner Stella is an ordinary person who takes delight in literature but remains disappointed by the course life has taken Both novels share a gentle air of regretI suspect this is the kind of book that every person not just every woman should reread once a decade to recognize new parts of the view and gain better hindsight on what it has all meant so farSee my full review at The Bookbag


10 thoughts on “Clever Girl

  1. says:

    Clever is defined as intelligent ingenious insightful It doesn't mean wise showing good judgement Stella the narrator is certainly clever but rarely wise Through snapshots of her life from childhood to middle age we read how she faces the challenges of each stage of life This book is not for those readers who ar

  2. says:

    or possibly 45 According to Harold Bloom we read to be less lonely as we can never know enough people Clever Girl

  3. says:

    I loved Clever Girl which tells the story of Stella a working class girl from Bristol from her years as a child of a single mother through when she is about 50 and a mother herself Her story told in episodes is a l

  4. says:

    Look in the dictionary for the definition of “clever” and you’ll find these words uick to understand or apply ideas

  5. says:

    Normally I do not care for books that are short on dialogue and full of descriptive language or third person na

  6. says:

    Nothing is WastedDomestic Fiction Not something that I had recognized as a separate genre until the London Sunday Times reviewer mentioned it on the back cover of this highly satisfying novel The chronicle of ordinary lives But I realize that it is something that I greatly enjoy and a genre in which Tessa Hadley is an unassuming master Looking back at my review of her recent story collection Married Love I noted that for Hadley

  7. says:

    Oh why didn't this win all the prizes I loved it Beautiful writing but it's the character of Stella that I enjoyed even fierce but s

  8. says:

    Fiction doesn't get better than this This novel follows Stella from her childhood in England to her present day middle age It's an exploration of relationships and class as well as dramatic incidents tragic deaths failed affairs broken dreams So well written that I'm sad it's over the highest test was not in what you chose but in how you lived what befell you

  9. says:

    A uiet deceptively simple novel about one woman’s journey through life family upheaval love academia and unplanned mother

  10. says:

    Like one of those dreams where you know it's your house even though it looks nothing like your house How does it feel to have a baby who doesn't sleep Exactly like this To believe in the holiness of an inanimate thing as a child Like this To cook and clean and love and hate Like this Beyond its immersive ualities the book's appeal lies in

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