Wednesday 20th February will see The Literary Festival entertaining Tessa Hadley, whose latest novel, Late in the Day, which tells the story of four friends in their fifties, and the turn their lives take after one of them dies after a sudden heart attack. It invokes a discussion of ageing, love, and a longing for the past that is becoming increasingly prevalent in contemporary fiction, but with an attention to detail and emotion that is unique to Hadley’s writing. Late in the Day has been generally well received and praised by various publications, with Johanna Thomas-Corr of the Guardian describing the prose style as ‘measured, ironic, disarmingly perceptive’.
Hadley studied for her MA in creative Writing while in her early 30s at Bath Spa university, before going on to get her PHD from the University of West England in 1998. She is now a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa, and published her first novel Accidents at Home in 2002 when she was 42 and bringing up a young family. Since then, Hadley has written a broad range of works, including several short story collections (for adults and children), a critical work on sexuality in the work of Henry James, and seven novels. Her work often dwells on family and relationships, usually with a focus on women.
However, Hadley has been criticized for her unquestionably middle-class narratives which are often described as ‘Hampstead Novels’, a term coined by Kate Kellaway to categorise the ‘middle-class morality novel’ that we see so often. Her works have been described as lacking in plot, action, and narrative structure, with author Joanna Briscoe suggesting that Hadley ‘exercises so much restraint that her brilliance is ultimately muted’. Despite this, Briscoe has also labelled Hadley’s work as ‘mysteriously, bewitchingly compelling’. She has been considered for, and won, many awards including the Hawthornden Prize and the Windham Campbell Prize in 2016, with the judges describing her writing as ‘superbly controlled, psychologically acute, and subtly powerful’. Her short stories frequently appear in the New Yorker, with her winning the Edge Hill Short Story Prize in 2018 for her short story collection, Bad Dreams.
Tessa Hadley will appear at the Spring Literary Festival on Wednesday February 20th in conversation with Philip Langeskov.