Although I’ve previously come across several of Tessa Hadley’s short stories Late in the Day is the first of her novels that I’ve read.
It is a beautifully written novel. The sort where the language is simple, straightforward, and incisive. The sort that’s easy to read and difficult to write.
The plot is straightforward, too. But the characters are not. They are complex. As are the friendships. Lydia and Christine first met as students, and at that time Lydia was obsessed with Alex their, already married with a child, tutor. So obsessed that she inveigled her way into his family home, with Christine in tow, offering her services as a babysitter. But later it is Christine who marries Alex and Lydia marries Christine’s boyfriend, Zachary. Despite, or perhaps because of this messy beginning the two couples remain close friends, you might say enmeshed, until Zachary dies unexpectedly and everything changes.
Lydia is bereft. Christine invites her to stay, indefinitely.
Christine didn’t tell Alex that she’d invited Lydia to live with them for as long as she liked. But he was uncomplaining when after the funeral; she closed up her own home with obvious relief and came to set up camp again in their spare room. This time Lydia unpacked her bags, putting her clothes away in the drawers which Christine had emptied for her, or hanging them in the space she’d made in the wardrobe. Her sumptuous, interesting dresses and skirts and jackets made Christine’s clothes look dowdy and worn-out. Lydia tried to give her things, told her to help herself to anything she liked, and Christine was tempted by the heavy silky fabrics, the fine sewing and good designs. (p106)
The story of the friendship between the two couples is told contemporaneously with flashbacks revealing the complexities of their relationships. Ultimately, Alex leaves Christine for Lydia. That Christine didn’t see this coming I found difficult to believe. As relationships go, the warning signs were there. Alex had been previously married, he struck me as the permanently disgruntled type, Lydia had previously been determined to make him hers …
That said there is real psychological depth to these characters. And Tessa Hadley successfully explores the nature of friendship, how it waxes and wanes over time. How loyalty isn’t something to take for granted. Then again, perhaps for these four it was never a priority.
You can read John Boyne’s review in The Irish Times here
Listen to Hannah August review Late in the Day on Radio New Zealand here
And listen to Curtis Sittenfeld read and discuss Tessa Hadley’s short story The Surrogate on The New Yorker Fiction podcast here
Opening sentence: They were listening to music when the telephone rang.
Late in the Day (2019) Tessa Hadley. Penguin Random House.
Categories: On Books