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Accidents in the Home

Accidents in the Home

2.7 4
by Tessa Hadley

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A powerful literary debut chronicling a year in the life of one thoroughly modern family

Clare Verey, a twenty-nine-year-old mother of three, bakes her own bread and grinds her own spices. She has a comfortable home in the suburbs and a devoted husband. Why is it, then, that when her best friend's lover appears in her life he has the power to invert her


A powerful literary debut chronicling a year in the life of one thoroughly modern family

Clare Verey, a twenty-nine-year-old mother of three, bakes her own bread and grinds her own spices. She has a comfortable home in the suburbs and a devoted husband. Why is it, then, that when her best friend's lover appears in her life he has the power to invert her world? Why is the desire for more never satisfied?

So begins Accidents in the Home, a novel that exposes the emotional underbelly of a modern-day family. Clare's narrative is deftly intertwined with the stories of her extended family: her mother, Marian, the clever daughter of a Dostoevsky scholar whose husband leaves her for a beautiful young art student; Clare's half brother, Toby, a dreamy boy who prefers to view life through the lens of a camera; her troubled younger half sister, Tamsin, who develops an apparatus of taboos and rituals to restore order to her chaotic past.

In the world Tessa Hadley has created, family is no longer a steady foundation but a complex web of marriages, divorces, half siblings, and stepchildren that expands with every new connection and betrayal.Accidents in the Home offers a startling, intimate portrait of family life in our time.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] surprising and rewarding novel...a panorama of a contemporary kind of family life.” —The New York Times Book Review

Accidents in the Home is a stylish, skillful first novel. Hadley is an acute observer of the insinuations of the strange and sinister into even the most outwardly placid life.” —The Washington Post Book World

“A domestic soap opera of the very best kind...[and] what's best about Hadley's novel is her unflinching clarity about the complexities and ambivalences of family life.” —The Baltimore Sun

“[A] captivating first novel, but the thrill of this tale lies in her distinctive characters--their fleeting elation and cleverly plotted contradictions, and the repercussions of their actions.” —The Herald Journal (Logan, Utah)

Publishers Weekly
Hadley weaves characters' lives and sensibilities into an affecting tapestry of love, loss, pain and introspection in her debut novel, a den of consequence for actions and events that are not really accidents at all. Clare Verey is a martyr, a near-adultress and part of a family train wreck that began with her father's first marriage and is still on its way to an explosive end. Clare's quiet life in the English countryside with husband Bram and their three children turns upside down when her glamorous best friend, Helly, arrives with a new boyfriend, David, and Clare begins to feel suffocated by her own ordinariness. Clare's preoccupation with David grows simultaneously with her contempt for men and motherhood, and a dark, frantic mood. A complex family tree reveals Clare's marital troubles to be symptomatic of her father's views on love, sex and marriage. Stepmothers and stepsiblings provide multiple foils for Clare's obsession with the ideals of family life and relationships. Her younger sister, Tamsin, brushes thoughts of her stillborn baby and dead boyfriend under a carpet of theater tickets and expensive clothes; half-brother Toby is disturbed by his mother's relationship with an abusive woman and by the chaos in Clare's domestic life; Graham, Clare's father, and Linda, his latest wife, square off against each another in a battle of wills. Though Hadley and her characters are preoccupied with irony, something that doesn't fully manifest itself in the novel, their stories are compelling and rich in the minutiae of family life. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This densely populated debut by British author Hadley is yet another novel of dysfunctional husbands and wives who seek greener pastures with best friends' wives and husbands. Clare leads a comfortable, Martha Stewart existence with her university sweetheart husband and a passel of well-adjusted children until she meets David, the lover of her best friend, Helly. Nothing really happens when she follows David back to London, using her need to do library research as a ruse, except that she leaves husband Bram to entertain Helly. Meanwhile, Clare's father gets a night out alone and decides to dump his hippy wife, Naomi, for the lanky young Linda. Readers may need scorecards at this point. Step-siblings abound, and sorting out relationships gets a bit difficult by book's end. Hadley is a skilled and thoughtful writer, and her characters have much to say about the complexity and durability of marriage, but it's often lost under the weight of guilt and anxiety. Recommended for large quality fiction collections. Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sorrowful debut follows a family and some friends as they go stage by stage through dissatisfaction with their lives. In a rainy modern-day British setting, a 29-year-old mother of three by the name of Clare is dreading the arrival of her childhood best friend Helly and Helly's most recent boyfriend, David, for a visit at her cramped home-thus Hadley's tale, with its ennui, depressed interior monologue, and passive-aggressive struggles for power, starts off like a well-executed if overly familiar short story. Fortunately, it soon takes a turn toward somewhat greater interest, as the author takes a step back from Clare's problem and comes at the story from the point of view of Clare's son, Toby, then back to Clare, then Clare's mother, Marian, and so on. Even as she lures the reader into her other characters' skins and worries, she keeps coming back to Clare and the story's central, thorny issue: that Clare wants to have an affair with David. Her husband, Bram, is a scientist who studies the ecology of local mudflats, while David is a handsome Londoner who worked as a lighting technician for concerts and clubs. As much as Clare hates to admit it, she's jealous of Helly-an aspiring actress and now well-paid model-and wants to taste at least a little of her glamorous life. Unfortunately for the story, though, this dilemma never quite makes itself dramatically believable or as a result compelling, a difficultly not helped by Hadley's point-of-view-switching technique; after she's taken the reader off to explore characters like the morose Toby, dealing with his slacker mother, or mousy Marian, taking care of her domineering academic father, being required to return to Clare's interior lifeseems a chore. If only she were the most interesting. Perfectly fine in execution but also a bit tiresome; with a different conception in the central story, Hadley's consummate knowledge of her characters might have resulted in a more telling debut.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.58(d)

Read an Excerpt

Lost and Found

The weekend that Helly brought her new boyfriend down to meet Clare, Clare's younger brother Toby was also staying with them, following them round with his video camera, making a documentary about the family for his college course.

Clare gave the camera one quick exasperated glance when the doorbell rang and the guests arrived. The food should have been ready but she was still chopping hurriedly amidst a debris of vegetable leavings; her fingers were stuck with parsley bits.

—Oh Toby, stop it!

Her deep glance at the camera — she looks at the lens and not at Toby, as if it was his eyes — is caught forever on the tape. She is wishing she had had time to change into the nicer clothes she had planned. Her hair is in a short, thick black plait on her shoulder, fastened with a rubber band. She looks tired. When she is tired (she believes) all those things which, at her best, make her look like an intellectual just make her look like a librarian: small eyes, neat straight brows, thin lips, a square high forehead. She has good skin but it is pink and hot because she is flustered. Her glance is naked and hostile - her last moment of free expression before she has to put on a smiling face.

She might be hostile to Toby; she is sometimes bossy and arbitrary with him.

Or perhaps to Helly, who comes and finds her out in her humiliation, dragged down by the children, without make-up, with wet red hands.

When Helly introduced her new boyfriend to Clare she said:

—You two should know each other. David comes from round here too. We must have all been at teenage parties together. He knows people weknew.

But the man was a stranger, an alien in Clare's house, with sunglasses hiding his eyes and an exaggerated presence she flinched from, curvy big cheekbones and chin with blue-black stubble, a thick beautiful leather coat, loudly and confidently friendly in a way that suggested immediately to Clare that he didn't want to be here in the provinces visiting his girlfriend's friend who was nobody. When they all kissed, the Londoners smelled expensively of bathrooms full of bottles of scents and lotions, and Clare was aware of her limp T-shirt which had soaked up the smells of the onion soup she was making for their lunch. The onion soup, with Parmesan toasts baked in the oven, would be delicious. (It was.) And Helly couldn't cook. But Clare feared that everything brilliant and savoury about her might appear to have drained into that onion soup, leaving her wan and dull and domesticated.

Helly was her best friend.

Recently, Helly had been paid thirty thousand pounds (twice as much as Bram, Clare's partner, earned in a year) to make a series of television advertisements for ice cream; as well as on television, they were used in the cinema and on hoardings. Everywhere Clare went she was surprised out of her reverie by Helly's golden face or the misty curves of Helly's body, intently and extravagantly inviting her into a larger-than-life golden vanilla space concealed inside the prose of everyday. These images got in the way for a while whenever she was with the real Helly: the real Helly would even seem for the first few minutes slightly contracted, smaller and more precise than she should be, and muffled in surprising clothes.

Helly was embarrassed about the advert. She was a serious actress. She did get work, in fringe and in soaps, but not enough. She was still waiting for her break. And no one, no one, could have turned down thirty thousand pounds. The advertisements paid for the serious work: that was the theory. But her friends couldn't help feeling that something momentous had happened, that she had stepped into a golden current of money and frivolity and glamour that would carry her off. Anyway, she wasn't strikingly talented as an actress. Although none of them quite acknowledged it, this was more exciting, really, than if Helly had got a good part in a play. They watched to see what would happen next.

Clare could remember that when she and Helly were fifteen, one of their shared night-time fantasies had been to imagine their nakedness projected lingeringly onto a cinema screen in front of an audience. So she couldn't be sure just how genuine Helly's contemptuous indifference was to those golden simulacra plastered everywhere. Or how genuine her own contemptuous indifference was, either.

The two visitors filled up the little terraced house with noise and cigarette smoke and with their things. They had brought in from the car a camera and bags of presents and bottles of wine and flowers and a portable mini-disk player and a heap of leather luggage, even though they were only staying the one night; also a laptop on which David had already tried to access his e-mail. (He worked as a lighting technician, designing systems for stage shows and clubs: this seemed to necessitate frequent contacts with his associates and long sessions on the mobile.) They talked more loudly and constantly and laughed more than Clare was used to.

Clare was taken aback at how profoundly she coveted Helly's beautiful clothes. She liked to think she was fairly indifferent to material possessions. Under Bram's influence she had given away lots of her CDs, deciding she had outgrown them. They had a house full of books but no television, and Clare made her own bread and ground her own spices and salted lemons to put in salads and chicken dishes. She bought most of what she wore in charity shops: not grudgingly but pointedly, because it was more original to put together your own bits and pieces. But when she saw Helly's long lilac-coloured dress and her green velvet jacket sewn with mirrors and her toenails painted green, she was reminded that there was something else you could do with your clothes, something better than just original, something that amounted to power and joy. You needed money, to make the look of you so mysteriously arouse longing and satisfaction at once: although you had to have a gift, too, to choose the right things so inventively and surely.

Helly was grievously good to look at: tall and spare, all flat planes, wide shoulders, big hands and feet, with big cheekbones and a long mobile mouth. Her eyes were pale green and her skin was really quite pale, not golden like in the adverts. Her spiky hair was blonde out of a bottle, with the roots left deliberately dark. The children came and watched Helly and David as if they were a show. Lily reached out a finger and stroked the velvet of Helly's sleeve; Rose put on her Superman cape especially for David, who didn't notice. He never knew what he was supposed to say to people's children, he confessed. Helly was the one who made all the efforts. She'd brought them things, and she talked to them in a chaffing ironic voice that Clare knew (she knew Helly very well) meant she was slightly afraid of them, not sure what they were thinking or how to please them. Coco, the oldest and the boy, was deeply suspicious of both visitors. He winced at Helly's silver lip-ring and ignored her as if it was kinder not to draw attention to how she shamed herself by wearing it; but he was drawn, almost against his better judgement, to the laptop. Even Toby — infuriatingly because he was twenty-three and should have been backing Clare up as a fellow adult — sat dumbly smiling and blushing in spite of all Helly's efforts to bring him out (she would be much more confident of how to please him, not because she had known him since he was a boy, but because he was a man now, and couldn't take his eyes off the lip-ring).

Meet the Author

Tessa Hadley lives in Cardiff, Wales, and teaches literature at Bath Spa University College. Accidents in the Home is her first novel.

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Accidents In The Home 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GirlieMac More than 1 year ago
Ostensibly, this is a book about the modern family, with step and half parents and siblings. This is NOT how modern families behave. The cadence of the book is annoying: very clippity cloppity. The design of the book is confusing: supposedly centered on Clare, who has decided to cheat on her partner and father of the children with her best friend's boyfriend. Every other chapter travels back in time to some random pathetic woman who is a step-something to someone. On top of all that, this book is vulgar: descriptions of a son watching his loser mother beaten/raped by her lesbian partner, one step-mother watching in detail two dogs humping and describing the "long tender crease of her (Clare's 4 year old daughter's) vagina". A very bad book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
twilightfan30 More than 1 year ago
I read the entire book expecting it to get better along the way. The book was well written, but such a downer that I felt depressed once I finished reading. I could relate to some of the emotions of the characters, but I thought the storyline was unbelieveable and would never happen.