I am somewhat loathe to admit that this was my first Tessa Hadley book! Now that I have read it I am thrilled that Tessa has such an extensive backlist for me to work my way through!
Free Love is set in the late 1960’s in London, a time when the world was a changin’! We meet 40 year old Phyllis (Phyll), her husband Roger, her teenage daughter Collette and 9 year old son Hugh. Phyllis lives the epitome of a suburban life and the book opens with her getting ready for a dinner guest to arrive, Nicholas, the twenty-something son of Roger’s friends.
Both parties are a bit reluctant about the dinner having last seen each other once, briefly, when Nicky was a child. However, he has recently moved to the area and his parents have arranged the dinner on his behalf. During the course of the meal Phyllis, having recently touched a cold ice bucket, lightly touches Nicky on the shoulder. The young man flinches from the cold, but Phyllis wrongly assumes he’s flinching from her touch which makes her feel a certain way about her age/attractiveness to men in her head.
When later on an event means Nicky and Phyllis are left alone outside in the dark and share a passionate kiss, a chain of events are set in motion.
Phyllis questions her safe suburban lifestyle, her marriage and her parenting role. She decides to leave the family and live a rather bohemian lifestyle with Nicky, in a less than desirable part of London.
This act of desertion deeply affects not only her relationship with her husband, but severs the extremely close bond she has with her young son Hugh. Perhaps the most affected is teenager Colette, who is desperately trying to galvanise her own identity in the absence of a mother figure at a time that is often tricky enough to handle without your family fracturing around you.
Tessa Hadley perfectly depicts family life, marriage and parenthood. I also felt transported back in time to the late 60’s with all of the cultural, social and political changes. In the opening chapters describing the evening as Phyllis is getting ready for the dinner party I could almost hear the children playing in the street and feel the sticky heat. I was hugely invested right from the start and flew through the whole book in 24 hours.
I always enjoy books about struggling mothers or women to fight against the societal norm of what a ‘good’ mother should be. Tessa Hadley makes you think about the moral implications of Phyllis and her actions and it is often not clear who’s side you should fall on. I like a book that makes you think!
I am now really excited to work my way through Tessa Hadley’s backlist. Don’t you just love it when that happens?!
Thank you to Jonathan Cape and Isobel Turton for my review copy.
I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do a Most Anticipated Books Of 2022 post but here we are! This list is not exhaustive of course! These are just some of the books I have on my radar which have piqued my interest. There are some absolute corkers coming our way.
I of course haven’t read them yet so I’ll just be giving you blurb after blurb but you might see something you fancy!…Just to say that some of these books might not have a UK publication date but I’ve checked that they can be ordered through Blackwells etc.
The Empty Greatcoat by Rebecca F John – Aderyn PressJanuary.
When Francis House enlists in the British Army in 1907, at the tender age of fifteen years and three months, he is not thinking about war. He imagines he simply wants to earn his stripes – to ease his traumatised father’s Boer War memories, or perhaps to please his favourite sister, Lily, with whom he has always dreamt of adventure. But he soon discovers that simply becoming a soldier is not enough and, against the advice of his sergeant, he determines to seek out a real fight. Wading ashore at Gallipoli seven years later, Francis thinks he might just have found the site of his greatest opportunity. Here, he thinks, he might finally prove himself a man. First, though, he must find his missing friend Berto. He needs to say sorry. He cannot yet imagine the ghosts that might stand in his way.
A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Rowe – Faber & Faber January.
It is October 1966 and William Lavery is having the night of his life at his first black-tie do. But, as the evening unfolds, news hits of a landslide at a coal mine. It has buried a school: Aberfan.
William decides he must act, so he stands and volunteers to attend. It will be his first job as an embalmer, and it will be one he never forgets.
His work that night will force him to think about the little boy he was, and the losses he has worked so hard to forget. But compassion can have surprising consequences, because – as William discovers – giving so much to others can sometimes help us heal ourselves.
New Animal by Ella Baxter – Picador February.
Amelia is no stranger to sex and death. Her job in her family’s funeral parlour, doing make-up on the dead, might be unusual, but she’s good at it. Life and warmth comes from the men she meets online – combining with someone else’s body at night in order to become something else, at least for a while.
But when a sudden loss severs her ties with someone she loves, Amelia sets off on a seventy-two-hour mission to outrun her grief – skipping out on the funeral, running away to stay with her father in Tasmania and experimenting on the local BDSM scene. There she learns more about sex, death, grief, and the different ways pain works its way through the body.
It takes two fathers, a bruising encounter with a stranger and recognition of her own body’s limits to bring Amelia back to herself.
What A Shame by Abigail Bergstrom- Hodder & Stoughton February
There is something wrong with Mathilda.
She’s still reeling from the blow of a gut-punch break up and grieving the death of a loved one. But that’s not it.
She’s cried all her tears, mastered her crow pose and thrown out every last reminder of him. But that’s not helping.
Concerned that she isn’t moving on, Mathilda’s friends push her towards a series of increasingly unorthodox remedies. Until the seams of herself begin to come undone.
Tender, unflinching and blisteringly funny, What a Shame glitters with rage and heartbreak, and offers up the joy of self-acceptance through an extraordinary rite of passage to overcome the prickly heat of female shame.
One Body by Catherine Simpson – Saraband February
In August 2018, 50-something Catherine Simpson’s world was upended with a diagnosis of breast cancer. One long, hard year later, the cancer was in remission – yet Catherine felt changed. She couldn’t simply move on as if nothing had happened. Coming face to face with her mortality had altered her entire perspective.
From puberty onwards, Catherine had experienced body-shaming, sexual harassment, menstrual pain, severe morning sickness, postnatal depression, weight gain and hair loss. She had been catcalled, ogled, propositioned, judged, dismissed. In other words, she’d gone through things many women can relate to. And she’d responded with dieting, fasting, shaving, plucking, tanning, toning, covering up in baggy or too-tight clothes, and finding ways to hide.
Of course, she’d had plenty of joy and laughter, too. She’d had far more freedoms than her mother. But had things been easier or better for her daughters, so far? And how did her path through cancer treatment alter her feelings about her body?
One Body is the frank and very often funny story of how Catherine came to appreciate the skin she is in – to be grateful for her body and all that it does and is.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka – Fig Tree February
Alice is one of a group of obsessed recreational swimmers for whom their local swimming pool has become the centre of their lives – a place of unexpected kinship, freedom, and ritual. Until one day a crack appears beneath its surface …
As cracks also begin to appear in Alice’s memory, her husband and daughter are faced with the dilemma of how best to care for her. As Alice clings to the tethers of her past in a Home she feels certain is not her home, her daughter must navigate the newly fractured landscape of their relationship.
A novel about mothers and daughters, grief and memory, love and implacable loss, The Swimmers is spellbinding, incantatory and unforgettable. The finest work yet from a true modern master.
Dance Move by Wendy Erskine – Picador February.
Meet Drew Lord Haig, called upon to sing the obscure hit from his youth at a paramilitary event. Or Max, who recalls an eventful journey to a Christian film festival. Meet Mrs Dallesandro, in the tanning salon on her wedding anniversary dreaming of a teenage sexual experience. And Sonya, who scours the streets of Belfast for the missing posters of her dead son.
In Dance Move, the new collection of stories from Wendy Erskine, we meet characters who are looking to wrest control of their lives, only to find themselves defined by the moment in their past that marked them.
In these stories – as in real life – the funny, the tender and the devastating go hand in hand. Full of warmth, the familiar and the strange, they are about what it means to live in the world, how far you can end up from where you came from, and what it means to look back.
A Very Nice Girl by Imogen Crimp – Bloomsbury February
Anna is struggling to afford life in London as she trains to be a singer. During the day, she vies to succeed against her course mates with their discreet but inexhaustible streams of cultural capital and money, and in the evening she sings jazz at a bar in the City to make ends meet.
It’s there that she meets Max, a financier fourteen years older than her. Over the course of one winter, Anna’s intoxication oscillates between her hard-won moments on stage, where she can zip herself into the skin of her characters, and nights spent with Max in his glass-walled flat overlooking the city.
But Anna’s fledgling career demands her undivided attention, and increasingly – whether he necessarily wills it or not – so does Max.
Woman, Eating by Claire Powell – Virago March
Lydia is hungry. She’s always wanted to try sashimi, ramen, onigiri with sour plum stuffed inside – the food her Japanese father liked to eat. And then there is bubble tea and the vegetables grown by the other young artists at the London studio space she is secretly squatting in. But Lydia can’t eat any of this. The only thing she can digest is blood, and it turns out that sourcing fresh pigs’ blood in London – where she is living away from her vampire mother for the first time – is much more difficult than she’d anticipated.
Then there are the humans: the people at the gallery she interns at, the strange men who follow her after dark, and Ben, a goofy-grinned artist she is developing feelings for. Lydia knows that they are her natural prey, but she can’t bring herself to feed on them.
If Lydia is to find a way to exist in the world, she must reconcile the conflicts within her – between her demon and human sides, her mixed ethnic heritage, and her relationship with food, and, in turn, humans. Before any of this, however, she must eat.
At The Table by Claire Powell – Fleet March
To Nicole and Jamie Maguire, their parents seem the ideal couple – a suburban double act, happily married for more than thirty years. So when Linda and Gerry announce that they’ve decided to separate, the news sends shockwaves through the siblings’ lives, forcing them to confront their own expectations and desires.
Hardworking – and hard-drinking – Nicole pursues the ex she unceremoniously dumped six years ago, while people-pleasing Jamie fears he’s sleepwalking into a marriage he doesn’t actually want. But as the siblings grapple with the pressures of thirtysomething life, their parents struggle to protect the fragile façade of their own relationship, and the secrets they’ve both been keeping.
Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield – Picador March
Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah may have come back wrong. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has carried part of it with her, onto dry land and into their home.
To have the woman she loves back should mean a return to normal life, but Miri can feel Leah slipping from her grasp. Memories of what they had before – the jokes they shared, the films they watched, all the small things that made Leah hers – only remind Miri of what she stands to lose. Living in the same space but suddenly separate, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had might be gone.
Careering by Daisy Buchanan- Sphere March
Imogen has always dreamed of writing for a magazine. Infinite internships later, Imogen dreams of any job. Writing her blog around double shifts at the pub is neither fulfilling her creatively nor paying the bills.
Harri might just be Imogen’s fairy godmother. She’s moving from the glossy pages of Panache magazine to launch a fierce feminist site, The Know. And she thinks Imogen’s most outrageous sexual content will help generate the clicks she needs.
But neither woman is aware of the crucial thing they have in common. Harri, at the other end of her career, has also been bitten and betrayed by the industry she has given herself to. Will she wake up to the way she’s being exploited before her protégé realises that not everything is copy? Can either woman reconcile their love for work with the fact that work will never love them back? Or is a chaotic rebellion calling…
Post Traumatic by Chantal V Johnson – Dialogue April.
To the outside observer, Vivian is a success story – a dedicated lawyer who advocates for mentally ill patients at a psychiatric hospital. Privately, Vivian contends with the memories and aftereffects of her bad childhood, compounded by the everyday stresses of being a Black, Latinx woman living in a white society. She lives in a constant state of hypervigilant awareness that makes even a simple tube ride into a heart-pounding drama.
For years, Vivian has self-medicated with a mix of dating, dieting, dark humour and smoking weed with her best friend, Jane. But after a family reunion prompts Vivian to take a bold step, she finds herself alone in new and terrifying ways, without even Jane to confide in, and she starts to unravel.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart – Picador April
Born under different stars, Protestant Mungo and Catholic James live in a hyper-masculine world. They are caught between two of Glasgow’s housing estates where young working-class men divide themselves along sectarian lines, and fight territorial battles for the sake of reputation. They should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all, and yet they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the doocot that James has built for his prize racing pigeons. As they begin to fall in love, they dream of escaping the grey city, and Mungo must work hard to hide his true self from all those around him, especially from his elder brother Hamish, a local gang leader with a brutal reputation to uphold.
But the threat of discovery is constant and the punishment unspeakable. When Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip to a loch in Western Scotland, with two strange men behind whose drunken banter lie murky pasts, he needs to summon all his inner strength and courage to get back to a place of safety, a place where he and James might still have a future.
That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan – Michael Joseph – May
1955: In an apartment on the Lower East Side, school teachers Dovie and Gillian live as lodgers. Dancing behind closed curtains, mixing cocktails for two, they guard their private lives fiercely. Until someone guesses the truth . . .
1975: Twenty years later in the same apartment, Ava Winters is keeping her own secret. Her mother has become erratic, haunted by something Ava doesn’t understand – until one sweltering July morning, she disappears.
Soon after her mother’s departure, Ava receives a parcel. Addressed simply to ‘Apartment 3B’, it contains a photo of a woman with the word ‘LIAR’ scrawled across it. Ava does not know what it means or who sent it. But if she can find out then perhaps she’ll discover the answers she is seeking – and meet the woman at the heart of it all . . .
Hush by Kate Maxwell – Virago – May
After five exhilarating years in New York, Stevie has a successful career and a glamorous social life. But what she most wants is a baby, an aspiration that feels impossible given that she is single, thirty-eight and living in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, far away from most of her family in England.
Determined to become a mother, Stevie returns to London and has a baby on her own. When she gives birth to Ash, she finds motherhood painfully at odds with her former life and her expectations.
She begins to wonder if having a child was a mistake – and what she might be willing to do to escape. As she struggles with her new reality and what her future might hold, revelations from the past change everything she believed about family and love.
Vladimir by Julia May Jonas – Picador – May
When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.
And so we meet our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose husband, a charismatic professor at the same small liberal arts college, is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extramarital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder-box world comes dangerously close to exploding.
Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh – Jonathan Cape – June
Little Marek, the abused and delusional son of the village shepherd, never knew his mother; his father told him she died in childbirth. One of life’s few consolations for Marek is his enduring bond with the blind village midwife, Ina, who suckled him when he was a baby, as she did for many of the village’s children. Ina’s gifts extend beyond childcare: she possesses a unique ability to communicate with the natural world. Her gift often brings her the transmission of sacred knowledge on levels far beyond those available to other villagers, however religious they might be. For some people, Ina’s home in the woods outside the village is a place to fear and to avoid, a godless place.
Among their number is Father Barnabas, the town priest and lackey for the depraved lord and governor, Villiam, whose hilltop manor contains a secret embarrassment of riches. The people’s desperate need to believe that there are powers that be who have their best interests at heart is put to a cruel test by Villiam and the priest, especially in this year of record drought and famine. But when fate brings Marek into violent proximity to the lord’s family, new and occult forces upset the old order. By year’s end, the veil between blindness and sight, life and death, the natural world and the spirit world will prove to be very thin indeed.
Acts Of Service by Lillian Fishman – Europa – July
If sex is a truth-teller, Eve―a young, queer woman in Brooklyn―is looking for answers. On an evening when she is feeling particularly impulsive, she posts some nude photos of herself online. This is how Eve meets Olivia, and through Olivia, the charismatic Nathan―and soon the three begin a relationship that disturbs Eve as much as it delights her. As each act of the affair unfolds, Eve is left to ask: to whom is she responsible? And to what extent do our desires determine who we are?
Schmutz by Felicia Berliner – Atria – July
Like the other women in her Brooklyn Hasidic community, Raizl expects to find a husband through an arranged marriage. Unlike the other women, Raizl has a secret.With a hidden computer to help her complete her college degree, she falls down the slippery slope of online pornography. As Raizl dives deeper into the world of porn at night, her daytime life begins to unravel. Between combative visits with her shrink to complicated arranged dates, Raizl must balance her growing understanding of her sexuality with the more conventional expectations of the family she loves.
Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews – Sceptre – July
A girl grows up in the north of England amid scarcity, precarity and the toxic culture of heroin chic, believing that she needs to make herself smaller to claim presence in the world.
Years later, as a young woman with unattainable ideals, she meets someone who calls everything into question, and is forced to confront episodes from her past. Their relationship takes her from London to Barcelona and the precipice of a new life, full of sensuality. Yet she still feels an uneasiness. In the sticky Mediterranean heat, among tropical plants and secluded beaches, she must decide what form her adult life should take and learn how to feel deserving of love and care.
The Nightship by Jess Kidd – Canongate – August
1629: A newly orphaned young girl named Mayken is bound for the Dutch East Indies on theBatavia, one of the greatest ships of the Dutch Golden Age. Curious and mischievous, Mayken spends the long journey going on misadventures above and below the deck, searching for a mythical monster. But the true monsters might be closer than she thinks.1989: A lonely boy named Gil is sent to live off the coast of Western Australia among the seasonal fishing community where his late mother once resided. There, on the tiny reef-shrouded island, he discovers the story of an infamous shipwreck…
Mother In The Dark by Kayla Maiuri- Riverhead Books – August
When Anna’s sister calls with an urgent message, Anna doesn’t return the call. She knows it’s about their mother.Growing up in working class Boston in an Italian American family, Anna’s childhood was sparse but comfortable–filled with homemade pasta sauce and a close-knit neighborhood. Anna and her sisters are devoted to their mother, orbiting her like the sun, trying to keep up with her loving but mercurial nature as she bounces between tenderness and bitterness.When their father gets a new job outside the city, the family is tossed unceremoniously into a middle-class suburban existence. Anna’s mother is suddenly adrift, and the darkness lurking inside her expands until it threatens to explode. Her daughters, trapped with her in the new house, isolated, must do everything they can to keep her from unraveling.
Alternating between childhood and Anna’s twenties, when she receives a shattering call about her mother that threatens to blow up her own precariously constructed life in New York, Mother in the Dark asks whether we can ever really go back home when the idea of home is so unstable. Whether we can escape that instability or accept that our personalities are built around the defenses we put up. Maiuri is a master at revealing the fragile horrors of domestic family life and how the traumas of the past shape the present and generations of women. A story about sisterhood, the complications of class, and the chains of inheritance between mothers and daughters, Mother in the Dark delivers an unvarnished portrayal of a young woman consumed by her past and a family teetering on the edge of a knife.
There you go! I hope you’ve seen something that floats your boat. Let me know if you read any of of these.