Tries to do too much in 200 pages,
This review is from: Accidents In The Home (Paperback)
Can't say I liked this. At 200+ pages this is too short for what it's trying to be--a family saga, including the stories and viewpoints of a large number of characters--so none of the stories is satisfying; the reader is left not really getting to grips with any of the characters. No wonder Tessa Hadley included a complicated diagram of the whole family at the start; this surprised me when I saw it as you usually find family trees like that in long, complex novels such as Wolf Hall. So it felt out of place, but it does in fact make sense as Hadley has included too many characters in this slim tome and the reader could easily lose track if not for the diagram.
In `Accidents in the home', each chapter stands alone in telling the story of one family member; each bit of the book has a short-story feel to it. In an irritating, `happy-endish' and clunky way (as often large chunks of the story are fast-forwarded or skipped), towards the end of the book most loose ends appear to be tied up: but still the reader is left with questions despite Hadley's attempt to provide closure. [More generally, I think novels that follow this `constructed' approach, presenting mixed up bits & pieces & then linking them all in a tidy, whole ending are hard to get right].
The writing is relatively simple & straightforward, so this doesn't make for hard reading (if you exclude the large number of characters and the confusion that causes). Most characters are a stereotype: we have the bohemian potter and wife-collector Graham who has more children with different wives than he can cope with; the reliable, boring, handsome father Bram; the stern, unsociable, bitter, elderly academic father who says he has accepted the ravages of old age but makes the life of those around him hell.
The women are worse: we have the settled, bored, married mother of three Clare who is about to burst at the seams within (what seems) a joyless existence; we get the serial victim, hippyish Naomi , who manages to get involved with abusers regardless of whether they're men or women; we get the young, `dark', delinquent self-harmer Tamsin, who is stuck on a past trauma; we have the hard-as-nails, unreliable professional woman who even if not particularly attractive seems slightly addicted to seducing men and, while doing so, breaks her husband's heart. And finally we have the mid-30s unmarried single and childless beauty, Helly, who envies from afar her friend Clare's settled lifestyle with husband and children (why?!).
Unfortunately the author spends too much time offering all these details and building up these caricaturish figures, which takes away from what could be a good story, if Hadley had concentrated on one aspect. For example, Clare and Bram's marriage and its dissolution could stand alone as a good novel, offering more depth & detail as to what is going on between them. What we get now is a series of `he did this' `she did that' without understanding what on earth is happening and why.
All in all, this novel left me unmoved and frustrated; I won't however give up on Tessa Hadley as a writer (I'll try some of her other books) as this was her first novel and there's some aspects in her writing that I enjoyed which perhaps she's developed more in later books. I think is she had just tried to do less in this book she would have been far more successful.