Paperbacks: Married Love By Tessa Hadley

Lovestruck grown-ups dream of new futures

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The Independent Culture

The stories in Tessa Hadley's latest collection aren't interlinked, but it's easy to believe that her characters might well invite one another over for New Year's Eve.

Indeed, her portraits of provincial professionals and academics are so vividly drawn it's hard not to imagine you haven't met some of them yourself. Like more distilled versions of her novels – she's written four – these stories trace the consequences of ill-advised intimacy and the curdling of love over time.

The title story sees Hadley taking a classic premise and giving it a good stir. When university student Lottie announces over breakfast that's she's getting married to her music tutor, a semi-distinguished composer called Edgar Lennox, her parents are aghast. But instead of leaving the drama there we're invited along to the wedding – a deflating affair – and allowed to follow our defiant protagonist into marriage.

Giving birth to three girls in quick succession Lottie soon loses her vim and vigour, while the rapidly aging Edgar returns to the calm acres of his ex-wife's house to play the piano.

Further into the collection Hadley returns to the theme of thwarted passion in the story "The Godchildren".

One May morning three middle-aged misfits, once close as teenagers, gather in a wisteria-clad semi to sort out their late godmother's possessions. Sharing memories of their youth they suddenly recall an embarrassing incident that inadvertently exposed their guardian's foxier side. An air of melancholy imbues this elegant tale of opportunities missed and happiness frittered.

For Hadley, the heart always rules the head and her love-struck grown-ups prove no less impetuous than her adolescents. Some of her most technically impressive stories capture the tensions that bubble up at large family gatherings as she adroitly introduces us to introspective children frustrated husbands and wives. It's at these boozy picnics and suburban soirées that Hadley takes a long hard look at where old loves might die and new futures begin.