Tessa Hadley at the Spring Literary Festival

Having never Read Tessa Hadley before, my impression of her before the talk was limited mostly to the criticisms of her latest book, Late in the Day, as being an example of the infamous Hampstead novel: poshos doing posho things, in a consequence-free world of pretention and jars of lentils. From the extracts Hadley read to the audience, there is a distinct, deliberate sense of upper-class irony and pretension in her characters, like a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf set in 2018 (and which has been toned down quite a bit). But Hadley’s novel came across to me as far more complicated than some critics had given her credit for, and she herself came across as far more down to earth a writer. ‘Well, lentils are very cheap!’ she laughs, after stating that she’d never really ever read a so called ‘Hampstead novel’ before. ‘I used to feed my children potatoes and lentils, it fills them up. And you don’t have to be rich to enjoy talking to your friends about poetry…’

After seeing Hadley discuss her novel, critiquing her use of an upper-middle class setting seems lazy and complacent. It’s a contemporary experience that exists, and one that has potential for literary manipulation. Through the setting, we can see how existential Hadley’s novel really is: that the comfortable life, in all its luxuries, fussiness, and indulgences, still contains the capacity for suffering and struggle. There seems to be a real sense of futility in Late in the Day: a comfortable, cultured life cannot protect one from the inevitability of death, and it is death that frames the narrative. Langeskov even describes the text as apocalyptic – it deals with the ends of things.

Hadley also showed a wonderful fascination with the functions of everyday existence: her interest in marriage, the dynamics of a group of friends and lovers, can depict the wonders and details of everyday life. Not to mention, it’s beautifully written: I was spellbound by her readings, and by the balance of hope and loss her work maintains. As she talked of the ‘implant of needing to write life down’ that she feels deep within her, her passion for literature shone through. Hadley has written about life itself, lentils in jars included.

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January 2022
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