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OUTSMARTED BY LIFE
on 28 December 2013
The ten lengthy, but fragmented, chapters of CLEVER GIRL by Tess Hadley fall like puzzle pieces slowly revealing the life of Stella beginning in the early `60s and culminating some 45 years later. Although the story takes place in England, it could very well be set in any country as we follow Stella through the "flower child/love beads and communal living era of her teens to her ultimate role as a married woman and mother of three grown children.
From her first sexual encounter with childhood friend and the love of her life, Valentine, to her life as settled matron there is a grim undertone to this story as it becomes increasingly clear that this CLEVER GIRL is more than a little selfish and self-absorbed, always taking and never truly giving of herself. Initially her attitude can be chalked up to the fact that she is an introspective young woman who is occasionally overwhelmed with raising two children and is compelled to "take a runner" for short periods of time leaving others to care for her off-spring. At the various stages in her development, she appears to find her identity in the books that she reads and her commentaries about others makes it apparent that she feels that they are just a step beneath her in both intellect and ability. Perhaps this is why she feels justified in using them to her advantage - sort of a "that's what friends and family are for" attitude.
Luck seems to be with Stella since most of the people in her life are kind and considerate - from Nicky, the father of her second child to Mrs. Tapper who finds her in the park and offers her employment, to Fred the homosexual teacher who later provides her and her brood with a home. Added to her circle are Mac, her always understanding husband, her parents, assorted aunts and uncles, and even a couple of girlfriends who lend a hand. While Stella seems to poo-poo the idea of wealth and accumulating "things", she is ultimately the poster child for "entitlement" of a less tangible nature.
While there are a couple of questionable moments near the end of the book, I wonder if upon finishing the book you, like I, will find yourself wondering how Hadley managed to turn a tale about a not very likable protagonist (I wouldn't choose her to be my BFF) leading a pretty ordinary and mundane life into something both philosophical and compelling that holds the readers interest. Could it be that Ms. Hadley is a literary hypnotist?