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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The most English of writers: Tessa Hadley

Tessa Hadley shows up w/ another strong story in current New Yorker, Silk Brocade - there is something so incredibly, self-consciously English about Hadley. You know the setting is England from the first few words, inevitably - and I don't think that's true of most contemporary English writers: if you're reading a story by, say, Zadie Smith or Martin Amis or Ian MacEwan or Julian Barnes - it seems to me that the story could be taking place anywhere, at least until there's a specific place name or topical reference. But not so w/ Hadley, who seems to go out of her way to dredge up peculiarly English terms like listening to the Third Programme (evidently a classical BBC station?) or earning a bursary (a scholarship?). In any event, what also marks her fiction is a deft blending of memory, recollection, and long-term perspective, and this story is great example: the first section - really the first 90 percent of the story - describe an encounter between a 20-something dressmaker who is asked by an old schoolmate (not a friend, particularly) to design her wedding dress, leading to a visit to the posh but passe estate with the schoolmate and her fiance. Hadley is deft about not disclosing the time period precisely - we pick it up, gradually, by a # of clues: the squirminess about premarital sex, a reference to someone's being a "socialist," finally a reference to polio - which places the episode in the 1950s or so. Then, flash, brand new episode - the main character and her 20-something daughter looking at some swatches of fabric, which brings back the memory - as quickly learned what became of each of the characters in the first section of the story - and then the story, brief though the ending may be, becomes the daughter's - objects, memories, and traits passed along over time through generations, a very fine narrative trick. It's not a particularly dramatic story, certainly by Hadley standards (she is a plot-driven writer), but it's peculiar and introspective and shows the continued development of this writer's work.

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