Top critical review
10 people found this helpful
Sunstroke - writing from the 1970s
on 11 February 2008
This sort of writing should never have made it out of the 1970s.
Tessa Hadley excels, as the Glasgow Herald quote on the back cover says: "in glimpses: those small burning memories ... which haunt as well as remind...".
But that's about it - a couple of good paragraphs of insight per story and the rest is pretty awful and myopic.
Virtually all her characters (really!) are graduate women who have studied Arts, usually English Literature, at university. Two, in separate stories, teach it at degree level. Most are post-feminists struggling to reconcile their past with a slow-dawning realisation that men are not all worthless, and that they still fancy them sometimes. Hadley herself is obviously still struggling: for example she attributes bizarre and inconsistent passions for guns to two of her male characters apparently purely to make the point that men are simple and doltish - unlike complex, peaceful women.
Some of her characters actually do read The Guardian but one cannot imagine any of them ever reading anything else. Two, in two different stories work for Labour MPs. In short Hadley has but one character: a post-feminist, socialist English Lit graduate, which she spins out by featuring them before, during and after university - an experience with which Hadley is clearly obsessed. She appears to takes the advice to writers about concentrating on what you know to risible extremes. A few characters even attend writing courses.
But even if one accepts this awfully narrow slice of society as adequate raw material, the characters themselves are inadequate and unattractive to the point where you simply do not care what happens to them. The men, of course, are laughably repulsive, like Vince in the title story Sunstroke. He is meant to be attractive to women but we are told he is "... lean with wedge-narrow face of a well-bred collie." Well-bred!
and Patrick, the object of desire in The Surrogate, who was "...tall with rather bowed shoulders; he was hollowly thin except for a small beer belly nestled in the stretched cloth of his T-shirt above his belt." Nestled!
"Really very sexy" is The Guardian quote used on the front cover. Really? Even the hilarious description of Thomas in Mother`s Son? "...how handsome she found him... he was odd-looking, with a crooked nose and a big loose mouth... his skin flared sensitively where the raw planes of his face were overgrowing...."
If this is what Hadley and her mates at The Guardian find sexy then god help them. It sounds to me like Thomas needs to see a doctor.
And then, even if one ignores these ridiculous descriptions, there's Hadley's careless repetition of style and imagery: too many things are `washed' or `rainwashed`, all the men have black curly hair, the women are all complex and sensitive and so it goes drearily on... .