Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Late in the Day

A moving, multifaceted novel explores how a sudden death changes the lives of two British couples and their children.
More than 30 years of love and friendship--and the loyalty and betrayals therein--are central to Late in the Day, a psychologically astute novel by Tessa Hadley. The story launches with a death that disrupts the lives of two British couples bonded inextricably since their college years.
Zachary Samuels, one of the four, dies suddenly from a heart incident. The death of this middle-aged gallery owner overwhelms his needy, helpless wife, Lydia. And this tragic news also shocks the lives of Lydia and Zachary's closest friends: Christine, an artist who had many showings at Zach's gallery, and her husband, Alexandr, a poet who gave up his writing dreams to become headmaster at a progressive primary school.
Zach is absent throughout the narrative, but his presence looms large in these three lives--and those of the offspring of each respective couple. In Zach's wake, roads not taken are reconsidered, affections shift and old wounds and jealousies are resurrected. This all leads to responses and actions that ultimately upend these once seemingly settled lives.  
As in her other work, Hadley (The Past) has a firm grasp on the complexity of grief and the strengths and foibles of human nature. This exquisitely rendered, character-driven novel probes emotional depths of an ensemble cast of ordinary people who are forced to come to grips with the meaning of life through loss and death.

Harper, $26.99, Hardcover, 97800062476692, 288 pages

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (January 15, 2019), link HERE

Tessa Hadley: Catching Fragments of the Living World

Photo by Mark Vessey
The Writer's Life

British author Tessa Hadley has written six novels, including Clever Girl and The Past, as well as three short story collections. Her work appears regularly in the New Yorker. Her seventh novel, Late in the Day (see my review), is about two couples and how the sudden death of one of the spouses uproots their lives. Hadley lives in London. 

Love, friendship and betrayal are central to Late in the Day. Could this novel be called a love story?

Yes, I suppose it is two love stories. Or three, or four. In our private lives, what could be more interesting? Like the electric charges zinging between molecules, two forces are perpetually at work: the love that draws us together and binds us, and its opposite--resistance, the reaction to love, driving us apart and keeping us separate. Both forces essential for our equilibrium, for our vision. As cultures change through time and history, these forces are expressed in new shapes and new versions. Novelists (and other artists) are the chroniclers of this.

Was marriage the seed that grew this story?

The origins of any novel, the very first seeds, often get lost as you write. I think I wanted to trace the long life of a marriage--or, even better, a couple of marriages. I wanted to see the characters hanging onto one another, or failing to hang on, while they changed shape over time. Marriages last longer now than they ever used to in history, because we live so long. And actually my first novel, Accidents in the Home, is obsessed by the same shape-shifting, couples converging and then falling apart.

Late in the Day begins with a death and winds back in time.

In the very beginning, I thought I'd tell my story in a linear way. But as soon as I tried to imagine arriving at Zachary's death--which would have happened, say, three-quarters of the way through the novel--I knew that wouldn't work. It would have felt to the reader like cheating, or like a mean surprise, a malevolence on the part of the author.... I convinced myself that for his death to work, it had to be written in first, where everything begins.

That first scene--the news of Zachary's death--has such immediacy. It blindsides the characters.

I was seized by that first scene as soon as I thought of it: Christine and Alex's peaceful evening, reading and listening to music, is broken open by a dreadful phone call. I could see it vividly, and it made me think for some reason of Michael Haneke's marvelous film Amour. I had to begin with that scene, once it was in my mind's eye. By opening with Zachary's death, all the characters' past experience is altered as we read it, in the light of what's to come. This isn't at all like life, of course.

How so?

The novel can play with time in ways we're not allowed, as mere mortals living inside it. Philosophically, I find this interesting. Perhaps time in the novel relates to Nietzsche's eternal return.

Structurally, this novel is complex.

The structure is quite complicated--sections from the present in which Zachary is dead, alternating with sections from the past.

How did you shape the material?

From the beginning, I needed to have an idea of the knotty complications of relations between the couples, because these complications are the pillars sustaining the novel's structure. But I didn't know what these complications would feel like, until I'd written them.

Ensemble casts of characters are prevalent in your work. Is this a conscious choice?

I suppose it's conscious, although I'm not sure it's a choice, exactly. The first reason for choosing to write about ensembles of characters is that I've always lived inside them. All my experience is of a knotted network of family and friends: perhaps I can't easily imagine a life lived in isolation, where one individual carries the whole story.
The second reason is that ensembles make for such rich material. I can remember discovering this when I was writing as a little girl. By the end of chapter four I was bored with the countess and her lover Frederick Fillet. What joy when I realized I could move the story downstairs, among the servants! New perspectives, new interactions; I could see the old story in a new way, just by shifting my angle to another character. An ensemble trebles, quadruples the material inside a given scene.

What interests you most as a writer?
Catching a small fragment of the living world in the net of writing, holding it still while time passes through it and leaves it behind.

This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness for Readers (January 15, 2019), link HERE 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Proposal

After a public marriage proposal goes awry, an unlucky-in-love writer on the rebound grapples with her attraction to a handsome doctor in this snappy romance.
Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date) opens her lively novel The Proposal at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Nikole "Nik" Paterson--a young freelance journalist and not a baseball fan--is sharing a day out with Fisher, her "perfectly nice, incredibly boring" beau of five months. Nik gets the surprise of her life, though, when Fisher proposes marriage to her on the stadium JumboTron. With a crowd of 45,000 baseball fans eagerly awaiting her answer, Nikole renders a rejection. That's when "perfectly nice" Fisher turns perfectly insulting and nasty. But Nik is rescued when Carlos Ibarra and his sister Angela swoop in, pretending to be long-lost friends of Nik, and usher her away.
The fortuitousness of this meeting soon sparks a fling between Nik and Carlos, a conscientious, handsome young doctor. Carlos is very much involved with the demands of his self-appointed responsibility to everyone in his family, especially a beloved cousin during her difficult pregnancy, marred with medical complications. For Nik, the fallout from the JumboTron disaster resurrects insecurity and self-esteem issues from painful past relationships. These respective dilemmas pull Nik and Carlos in opposite directions, creating impediments to their deepening romance. They must confront what they truly want for their lives, their futures and their relationship.
Through snappy dialogue and short scenes, Guillory explores the traps, pitfalls and triumphs of contemporary young love in the age of social media and viral videos. And Carlos's dynamic extended family and Nik's wisecracking girlfriends enliven and fortify the appeal of the fast-paced story.

Berkley, $15.00, Paperback, 9780399587689, 352 pages

Publication Date: October 30, 2018

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE

NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (October 30, 2018), link HERE