Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CLEVER GIRL by Tessa Hadley

It is a simple story, yes, but a telling one as it is a carefully wrought portrait of a woman's life. As our heroine, Stella, makes choices, chooses paths we are reminded of the twists and turns our lives may take. As she relates her life Stella does so from her point of view - but then, if we look at our lives don't we see them from our points of view? Clever Girl is a painterly portrait of the stages in her life, and an engaging read.

Born a British girl in 1956 Stella is intelligent and seemingly intuitive. The child of divorced parents she often turns to her mother and grandmother, excels in school and seems a sure bet for university. Her predictable life changes when her mother remarries, and Stella turns to books and the pursuit of her intellectual curiosity. She believes she has found her perfect mate in Valentine who soon leaves her not knowing she is pregnant with his child. She decides to keep the baby and forget her ambitions for higher education

As a single mother she takes menial jobs and joins a commune filled with art students. Once there she again becomes pregnant by a new boyfriend who suddenly dies. Stella once again determines to further her education, and eventually takes her two sons to live with a gay schoolmaster. He will offer her shelter in return for housekeeping. That is not the last of Stella's choices, options for which she has no explanation. Thus, it frequently seems as though despite pain and humiliation she cannot understand what motivated her to do this or that as she looks back at her life.

It is the quality of Hadley's writing that holds us - her creation of a narrative voice that brings people, places and events to vivid life. She is able to limn a time, an atmosphere so that we perfectly see it. Simply put Clever Girl is engrossing and compelling penned by one of today's finest writers.

- Gail Cooke

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