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by Tessa Hadley

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2003
ISBN: 0-8050-7065-6
Publisher: Henry Holt

The Welsh author of Accidents in the Home (2002) returns with a somber-hued but surprisingly compelling second novel about three generations of stalwart British women and the men who let them down.

Joyce Stevenson is 11 when her WWII–widowed mother Lil moves in with Joyce’s straitlaced Aunt Vera, handsome Uncle Dick, and cousins in a wonderfully quirky Victorian house set on an estuary near Falmouth, England. Here, Joyce watches as the family’s apparent new freedom and happiness slowly turn to grief and betrayal when Vera’s youngest child dies of meningitis and Uncle Dick reacts by leaving Vera for one of the many voluptuous young women with whom Joyce has seen him rendezvous in town. Many years later, Joyce herself peers from a Falmouth beauty parlor window as her own husband, an artist named Ray Deare, meets his young lover, an art student; but for Joyce and Ray, the ensuing confrontations mark the beginning of a lifetime of more-or-less affectionate accommodation. Still, like Joyce, their daughter Zoe pairs up with a handsome philanderer at the tender age of 19; and like Joyce’s Aunt Vera, Zoe is abandoned by him and raises her daughter Pearl alone, with Joyce’s help, while becoming an academic specialist in Third World issues. The selfish and chaotic 17-year-old Pearl, last in the line of Stevenson women, is a gothic character in both the literary and the popular-culture sense; yet when she turns for comfort to her long-forgotten father, she creates a moment of eerie pathos that brings the fears and hopes of all four generations into focus.

Familiar fictional territory, but Hadley masters the details with conviction and brings to the emotional landscape an intriguing perspective of her own.