‘Bad Dreams and Other Stories’ by Tessa Hadley – The Rise of Tessa Hadley


‘Bad Dreams and Other Stories’ by Tessa Hadley   (2017) – 225 pages

My transformation is now complete. I am now a total Tessa Hadley fan.

It has not always been this way.  A dozen or so years ago when I was swayed by some positive reviews, I read her first novel ‘Accidents in the Home’.  While reading this novel, I felt there was just too much description of inanimate objects such as household furnishings and clothing and gardens, etc.  Sure, I felt that some of this minute detailing of items was necessary and well done, but for the most part I found it insufferably mundane.  My reasoning at the time was that I read fiction in order to study and appreciate interactions among people, not to find out about common household appliances.   I’m afraid I did not rate ‘Accidents in the Home’ very highly.

A few years later as the positive reviews of Tessa Hadley’s fiction kept mounting, I tried again with her book of stories ‘Sunstroke’ but unfortunately with the same result.  I still couldn’t get past the fact that Hadley seemed to devote so much of her writing to things rather than people.   Perhaps her writing was too subtle for me at the time.

‘The Past’ which came out in 2015 is the novel that caused an abrupt shift in my attitude toward the fiction of Tessa Hadley.  I finally figured out that Tessa Hadley was not just describing objects, but she was also developing her characters’ relationship to these objects. I suppose this all has to do with the literary device known as the “objective correlative” in which objects are used in a story or poem to evoke or convey emotion.  Hadley understands that how we relate to the things around us is a critical part of the make-up of our character.  In this story of a family reunion, ‘The Past’ contains these lush outdoors scenes in which the natural details of the old family home are blended with the interactions of the human characters.  I was tremendously moved by ‘The Past’ and consider it one of my very favorite novels of 2016.

So now I return to Tessa Hadley and her book of stories ‘Bad Dreams’.  Tessa Hadley is one of those rare writers who appears to be equally adept and comfortable with the short story as well as the novel.  These stories are moving little gems that combine the characters as well as their physical objects.  In ‘Silk Brocade’ two young women starting out in the dress designing business plan a wedding dress for a poor girl who is marrying a rich man.  In ‘Under the Sign of the Moon’ a sixtyish woman traveling by train from London to Liverpool meets a younger man across the aisle.  The story takes an outrageous twist and contains such perfect lines as this:

 “This conversation took place on the surface, while their real lives were hidden underground beneath it, crouching, listening out, mutely attentive.”

Hadley is also one of the few writers who can write stories in a contemporary setting and can still be subtle and outrageous at the same time.

So my opinion of the fiction of Tessa Hadley has transformed, and maybe even the way I view fiction has also changed.


Grade:   A


2 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds really interesting! Thanks for the review!



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