One relatively ordinary life, chronicled from the 1950s to the 1990s in England, mirrors enormous shifts in style, attitude and choice, especially for women.
Domesticity of many kinds—rich, poor, hippie, straight—forms the connective tissue in Hadley’s (Married Love, 2012, etc.) fifth novel, narrated by Stella, a girl of her times. Growing up in the postwar decade without a father (Stella is told he has died, although that’s not true), she experiences a childhood bound by convention and a shortage of cash. When her mother remarries, Stella finds herself in competition and conflict with her stepfather. But friends sustain her, notably Valentine, her soul mate, a boy with rebellious modern ideas and drugs. Sex only happens between them twice, but Stella falls pregnant and becomes a single mother herself, a choice which derails her hopes for college. Instead, she becomes a housekeeper, then moves into a commune and becomes pregnant again. This time, the father is unexpectedly killed. Stella is a caring mother yet a prickly character—suspicious, private, critical. Eventually, she does find some success. Yet life remains stormy, with new chapters continuing to open.
Hadley is a fine, insightful writer, but this memoir of a restless, bookish woman coping with a sequence of variable male figures while playing the hand life has dealt her lacks momentum.