Cape £14.99

Married Love, By Tessa Hadley

Perfect domestic miniatures, illuminated by flashes of insight

The short stories of the novelist Tessa Hadley, of which this is her second collection, are often like movie clips of lives in transit, their small shifts of focus yielding up flashes of psychological insight.

In "Journey Home", an art historian of a solitary disposition stands transfixed by Titian's Pietà until the drumbeat of anxiety regarding the whereabouts of his vulnerable sister draws him back into present-day crises. In arguably the best story, "Friendly Fire", two very ordinary women companionably cleaning a King's Lynn factory office become briefly illuminated, almost elevated, in a sudden revelation of suffering, as one checks her phone messages in dread of news about her soldier son, while her friend watches with sympathy.

Hadley's settings and concerns are invariably British, but not always contemporary. Several historical tales throw up universal themes. The young man in 1920s Tynemouth, in "The Trojan Prince", has the comforting familiarity of a Dickensian hero. Upwardly mobile he may be, plotting marriage into a higher social echelon, but he discerns that happiness lies with the girl he has tried to leave behind. Class difference raises its head again in "A Mouthful of Cut Glass", a 1970s-set story about a mismatched student couple who stay with one another's families. Here, sharp characterisation, subtle observation and humour give the well-trodden theme fresh flavour.

Hadley excels at the domestic context, at pinpointing the particular quiddity on which an individual character turns; at marking the tiny swings of allegiance in human relationships. "In the Country" displays all these characteristics: here a married couple, Julie and Ed, spend the day at a family party for Ed's mother's birthday. Following an ill-chosen remark of Ed's, Julie finds herself realigning ranks and revealing secrets from her past to another outsider. "In the Night" is an amusing observation of the adult world told from the heartless viewpoint of children. Tom and Kristen spurn a drippy young man they call "the Pune", whom their mother has taken under her wing, but when the Pune and Kristen are thrown together, hiding at a grown-ups' party, they find an unexpected moment of commonality.

While Hadley's intent is too serious for her writing ever to be called comic, her tales, told in light, deft prose, are engagingly lifted by humour. In the whimsical title story, bespectacled 19-year-old Lottie defies her left-wing liberal family by marrying an ageing music lecturer and spawning three daughters. The author pokes gentle fun at the entire cast, but Lottie's sobering journey to full awareness of what she's done to her life progresses all the while in a quiet minor key beneath.

There is surprise and variation in form, too. Some stories start schematically but turn into something more complex or unexpected: in one, "three heirs, in three separate taxis, converge" on their dead godmother's house, but what suggests itself to be a conflict about a will becomes a more wistful piece about lost connections. Characters are often seen trying to come to terms with past disappointment or tragedy. "The winter after her brother killed himself," is how "She's the One" begins (Hadley is excellent at arresting first lines), going on to describe an unusual friendship that develops between two wildly different women. Hadley's endings are rarely neatly tied; it's as though she prefers to leave her readers to revisit and work everything out themselves. This nearly always delivers rich pleasures.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album