Clever Girl: A Novel

( 3 )

Overview

Clever Girl is an indelible story of one woman’s life, unfolded in a series of beautifully sculpted episodes that illuminate an era, moving from the 1960s to today, from one of Britain’s leading literary lights—Tessa Hadley—the author of the New York Times Notable Books Married Love and The London Train.

Like Alice Munro and Colm Tóibin, Tessa Hadley brilliantly captures the beauty, innocence, and irony of ordinary lives—an ability to transform...

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Clever Girl

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Overview

Clever Girl is an indelible story of one woman’s life, unfolded in a series of beautifully sculpted episodes that illuminate an era, moving from the 1960s to today, from one of Britain’s leading literary lights—Tessa Hadley—the author of the New York Times Notable Books Married Love and The London Train.

Like Alice Munro and Colm Tóibin, Tessa Hadley brilliantly captures the beauty, innocence, and irony of ordinary lives—an ability to transform the mundane into the sublime that elevates domestic fiction to literary art.

Written with the celebrated precision, intensity, and complexity that have marked her previous works, Clever Girl is a powerful exploration of family relationships and class in modern life, witnessed through the experiences of an English woman named Stella. Unfolding in a series of snapshots, Tessa Hadley’s moving novel follows Stella from the shallows of childhood, growing up with a single mother in a Bristol bedsit in the 1960s, into the murky waters of middle age.

Clever Girl is a story vivid in its immediacy and rich in drama—violent deaths, failed affairs, broken dreams, missed chances. Yet it is Hadley’s observations of everyday life, her keen skill at capturing the ways men and women think and feel and relate to one another, that dazzles.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Meg Wolitzer
…Hadley is an immaculate stylist…Clever Girl isn't plot-driven and isn't a character study and isn't preoccupied with language, but its elements work in patient harmony. It is what could be called a "sensibility" novel—a story that doesn't overreach, about a character who feels real, told in prose that isn't ornate yet is startlingly exact. The effect is a fine and well-chosen pileup of experiences that gather meaning and power.
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/04/2013
Hadley’s (The London Train) latest is told from the point of view of Stella, a lower-middle-class British girl born in the 1950s, whose experiences coming of age mirror the broader cultural development of her times. The child of divorced parents, Stella is clever in school and seems destined to go on to a university. But after being abandoned by a boyfriend and discovering she is pregnant (her son, Luke, eventually goes on to be a teacher), Stella’s life takes a series of left turns. While working as a waitress, she falls in with a group of art students, and eventually goes to live in their commune, where she gets pregnant again by a new boyfriend who’s tragically killed before the baby is born. After a dispiriting stint as a married businessman’s mistress, Stella returns to school and resumes the trajectory of her waylaid life. The simplicity of its story is one of this novel’s great strengths: the uncluttered plot allows for Stella’s pains, humiliations, and instances of self-discovery to be confidently inhabited and rendered with emotional precision. Looking back over her life, Stella can be wistful about people and places (“Sometimes I’m nostalgic for that old intricate decay, as if it was a vanished subtler style”), but tellingly, she is often at a loss to explain or precisely remember her motivations, “as if a switch flicked between two versions of myself, I suddenly wasn’t all right.” In the end, this carefully wrought novel transcends mere character study, offering up Stella’s story as a portrait of how accidents and happenstance can cohere into a life. (Mar.)
Booklist
“Hadley displays the keen insight and masterful portrayal of the domestic life for which she has become known.”
Vanity Fair
“A rich, absorbing novel.”
Sunday Times (London)
“Quietly brilliant….Hadley has always been adept at drawing out the unrecognisable from the everyday….Domestic fiction is often disparaged as less than serious, but Hadley demonstrates admirably that the genre can carry weight.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“Lives which are unsophisticated yet experienced intensely, and gorgeously erudite prose are the distinguishing features of Tessa Hadley’s writing.”
The Guardian (London)
“Like Munro, Hadley is a writer both exact and lyrical, and there are many pleasures to be found along the way, particularly her sensual descriptions of nature, adolescence, and maternity.”
The Times (London)
“Compelling….For all Stella’s spikiness and grittiness, there is a sensuousness to Hadley’s writing which revels in richly prolix descriptions of sights and states of mind….Hadley has a genius for pithy analysis….The result consistently rings true despite its very literary artistry.”
The National (London)
“It’s this very ordinariness that makes Hadley’s book so captivating. Clever Girl is one of those glorious novels about nothing in particular and everything there is in life, all at the same time.”
Literary Review (London)
“This is Hadley’s extraordinary skill as a novelist: to navigate and narrate the fleeting moments in an individual’s life when the future crystallises, by choice and circumstance, for good or for bad....Clever Girl is a remarkable novel by one of this country’s finest, if most unassuming talents.”
The Observer (London)
“Accomplished, elegant....This novel is the life story of an ordinary, middle-aged woman-Stella. Only that she is not ordinary because Tessa Hadley is writing her into existence and is behind her like a following wind….Hadley writes as a masterly illustrator might draw.”
Evening Standard (London)
“Hadley remains so fixed in Stella’s viewpoint that whatever this stubborn, lonely, eloquent character has to tell us, we accept....Subtle, intelligent, and realistic storytelling.”
The Independent (London)
“An intimate, engrossing and eminently English coming of middle-age story from one of Britain’s finest writers….The narrative is episodic and deeply personal, but slowly coalesces to form a mosaic of British life over the past 50 years.”
Financial Times
“Involving…. Intrigues and engages…. The smooth narrative echoes Hadley’s cool and precise prose.... There’s plenty of family drama (including murder) but Hadley’s strength is in describing what is often left unnoticed.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The simplicity of its story is one of this novel’s great strengths: the uncluttered plot allows for Stella’s pains, humiliations, and instances of self-discovery to be confidently inhabited and rendered with emotional precision….This carefully wrought novel transcends mere character study.”
Library Journal (starred review)
“A uniquely gifted writer, Hadley, never vague, possesses a narrative voice that moves the characters through their phases with parenthetic irony. Like an artist dabbing in precise luminous details, she has a masterly grasp of pivotal moments and renders them with brilliant economy.”
Flavorwire
“Tessa Hadley gives us everyday people, and makes their lives seem like works of art. Here, in her latest, we follow Stella through life, where Hadley gets all of her failings and little triumphs to shine like prized gems.”
New York Times Book Review
“Subtle....A story that doesn’t overreach, about a character who feels real, told in prose that isn’t ornate yet is startlingly exact. The effect is a fine and well-chosen pileup of experiences that gather meaning and power….Stella may not stand out, but Tessa Hadley certainly does.”
People
“Looking for the next Kate Atkinson or Alice Munro? Pick up this lovely novel about a smart Englishwoman who’s also prickly and prone to misfortune.”
Wall Street Journal
“Masterful, understated….Clever Girl, like the fiction of V.S. Pritchett or Alice McDermott, is devoted to capturing personality through small actions and expressions, to sparking characters into a vivid flame with a few exact descriptions and to distilling domestic settings into precious, even exalted significance.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Like Alice McDermott’s Someone, it’s the story of an ordinary woman’s life, so closely observed it becomes sublime…..It’s Hadley’s brilliance to show how the jarring desires, the pieces that don’t fit together, nonetheless make a full life.”
Kansas City Star
“Hadley achieves a good balance between subtlety and romance, the domestic and the sensational. Though each chapter could stand alone...they add up to a complete, nuanced portrait of a woman who feels as knowable and real as a fictional character can.”
Library Journal
10/01/2013
Hadley, who's captured the imagination of the well-read everywhere with books like Married Love, returns with a book that vivifies a life typically lived, as we follow Stella from childhood with a single mum in a 1960s Bristol bedsit to the ups and downs of middle age. Not a huge first printing, but watch this one, especially for book clubs.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-20
One relatively ordinary life, chronicled from the 1950s to the 1990s in England, mirrors enormous shifts in style, attitude and choice, especially for women. Domesticity of many kinds--rich, poor, hippie, straight--forms the connective tissue in Hadley's (Married Love, 2012, etc.) fifth novel, narrated by Stella, a girl of her times. Growing up in the postwar decade without a father (Stella is told he has died, although that's not true), she experiences a childhood bound by convention and a shortage of cash. When her mother remarries, Stella finds herself in competition and conflict with her stepfather. But friends sustain her, notably Valentine, her soul mate, a boy with rebellious modern ideas and drugs. Sex only happens between them twice, but Stella falls pregnant and becomes a single mother herself, a choice which derails her hopes for college. Instead, she becomes a housekeeper, then moves into a commune and becomes pregnant again. This time, the father is unexpectedly killed. Stella is a caring mother yet a prickly character--suspicious, private, critical. Eventually, she does find some success. Yet life remains stormy, with new chapters continuing to open. Hadley is a fine, insightful writer, but this memoir of a restless, bookish woman coping with a sequence of variable male figures while playing the hand life has dealt her lacks momentum.
Ron Rash
“One woman’s story comes to exemplify a whole era in this marvelous novel. Tessa Hadley writes with a poet’s attentiveness to language, and finds the profound and wondrous in the seemingly quietest of lives.”
Carol Anshaw
“With Clever Girl, Tessa Hadley examines the blunt force of young adulthood. She deftly portrays this short stretch of time in which we make many of the most important decisions of our lives, all while driving under the influence of ignorance and inchoate sexuality.”
New Statesman
“Tessa Hadley is a clever writer who likes to play with form. Like Amish quilts, her novels are made up of homespun, domestic material, delicately worked over. Then you step back and see the bold structural decisions behind their composition”
Toronto Star
“Tessa Hadley is wonderful at surprising us with the domestic dramas that stir the embers of everyday life….Her reminiscences can resemble little bombs….Hadley can make even English weather seem enthralling.”
Meg Wolitzer
“Subtle....A story that doesn’t overreach, about a character who feels real, told in prose that isn’t ornate yet is startlingly exact. The effect is a fine and well-chosen pileup of experiences that gather meaning and power….Stella may not stand out, but Tessa Hadley certainly does.”
Sam Sacks
“Masterful, understated….Clever Girl, like the fiction of V.S. Pritchett or Alice McDermott, is devoted to capturing personality through small actions and expressions, to sparking characters into a vivid flame with a few exact descriptions and to distilling domestic settings into precious, even exalted significance.”
Anne Landsman
“A rich, absorbing novel.”
Daily Telegraph
“Lives which are unsophisticated yet experienced intensely, and gorgeously erudite prose are the distinguishing features of Tessa Hadley’s writing.”
The Guardian
“Like Munro, Hadley is a writer both exact and lyrical, and there are many pleasures to be found along the way, particularly her sensual descriptions of nature, adolescence, and maternity.”
The Times
“Compelling….For all Stella’s spikiness and grittiness, there is a sensuousness to Hadley’s writing which revels in richly prolix descriptions of sights and states of mind….Hadley has a genius for pithy analysis….The result consistently rings true despite its very literary artistry.”
The National
“It’s this very ordinariness that makes Hadley’s book so captivating. Clever Girl is one of those glorious novels about nothing in particular and everything there is in life, all at the same time.”
Literary Review
“This is Hadley’s extraordinary skill as a novelist: to navigate and narrate the fleeting moments in an individual’s life when the future crystallises, by choice and circumstance, for good or for bad....Clever Girl is a remarkable novel by one of this country’s finest, if most unassuming talents.”
The Observer
“Accomplished, elegant....This novel is the life story of an ordinary, middle-aged woman-Stella. Only that she is not ordinary because Tessa Hadley is writing her into existence and is behind her like a following wind….Hadley writes as a masterly illustrator might draw.”
Evening Standard
“Hadley remains so fixed in Stella’s viewpoint that whatever this stubborn, lonely, eloquent character has to tell us, we accept....Subtle, intelligent, and realistic storytelling.”
The Independent
“An intimate, engrossing and eminently English coming of middle-age story from one of Britain’s finest writers….The narrative is episodic and deeply personal, but slowly coalesces to form a mosaic of British life over the past 50 years.”
Lauren Bufferd
“Told in a series of perfectly observed moments, Clever Girl is not about what you want your life to be, but what you do with what life hands you….An elegant, accomplished novel.”
Sinéad O'Shea
“The simplicity of its story is one of this novel’s great strengths: the uncluttered plot allows for Stella’s pains, humiliations, and instances of self-discovery to be confidently inhabited and rendered with emotional precision….This carefully wrought novel transcends mere character study.”
Michele Leber
“Hadley displays the keen insight and masterful portrayal of the domestic life for which she has become known.”
Joyce Townsend
“A uniquely gifted writer, Hadley, never vague, possesses a narrative voice that moves the characters through their phases with parenthetic irony. Like an artist dabbing in precise luminous details, she has a masterly grasp of pivotal moments and renders them with brilliant economy.”
Tricia SpringstubbCleveland Plain Dealer
“Like Alice McDermott’s Someone, it’s the story of an ordinary woman’s life, so closely observed it becomes sublime…..It’s Hadley’s brilliance to show how the jarring desires, the pieces that don’t fit together, nonetheless make a full life.”
Jason Diamond
“Tessa Hadley gives us everyday people, and makes their lives seem like works of art. Here, in her latest, we follow Stella through life, where Hadley gets all of her failings and little triumphs to shine like prized gems.”
Adela Kim
“Hadley’s prose is delightful to read.”
Christine Pivovar
“Hadley achieves a good balance between subtlety and romance, the domestic and the sensational. Though each chapter could stand alone...they add up to a complete, nuanced portrait of a woman who feels as knowable and real as a fictional character can.”
John Williams
“Hadley’s prose is both precise and imaginative….Her genteel style belies the many pointed insights she has to offer about female ambition and desire.”
Katie Haegele
“Hadley’s voluptuous language gives every little thing an immediacy….Like Joyce at his most coherent and exuberant, each of Hadley’s sentences bristles with life, and every moment has significance.”
Financial Times (London)
“Involving…. Intrigues and engages…. The smooth narrative echoes Hadley’s cool and precise prose.... There’s plenty of family drama (including murder) but Hadley’s strength is in describing what is often left unnoticed.”
People
“Looking for the next Kate Atkinson or Alice Munro? Pick up this lovely novel about a smart Englishwoman who’s also prickly and prone to misfortune.”
Melanie Cremins
“Ultimately, this is a beautiful and precisely drawn portrait of an everywoman, both extraordinary and ordinary.”
Vogue
“Irresistibly charming.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062270399
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Series: P.S.
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 108,331
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Tessa Hadley is the author of four highly praised novels: Accidents in the Home, which was long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award; Everything Will Be All Right; The Master Bedroom; and The London Train, which was a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of two short-story collections, Sunstroke and Married Love, both of which were New York Times Notable Books as well. Her stories appear regularly in the New Yorker. She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 4, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    For me CLEVER GIRL is a mixed bag. Tessa Hadley had me thoroughl

    For me CLEVER GIRL is a mixed bag. Tessa Hadley had me thoroughly convinced with Stella's story. Completely believable. I can't say I liked Stella nor can I say I thought she made good decisions, but Tessa wrote a character who felt so true and Stella was always true to character. Not only was Stella's character real, but the world around her. I could almost feel the avocado shag carpeting under my feet as I read. I was transported into Stella's story. I didn't like Stella. I wanted better for Stella. But Stella carves out a life, which is true to her. It's hard to explain, you have to read it.




    I felt I walked away from CLEVER GIRL understanding people a bit more. Her choices and life path are foreign to me, but she made me respect her differences. I feel like I understand a generation I didn't know before. For as much as I didn't like the story, I loved it. For as much as I didn't like Stella, I loved her. I recommend you take a trip to your local bookstore and open CLEVER GIRL up. This isn't a 'typical' read, not a 'typical' story. It is very good, but may not be for everyone. I do want to say I think you should take time and read a few chapters. CLEVER GIRL by Tessa Hadley is the exact reason why I became a book reviewer. I knew I wanted to experience new genres and writing techniques, I may have otherwise not tried. If you are looking for a more unique experience in your reading selections, than I recommend CLEVER GIRL.

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  • Posted April 1, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Clever Girl follows the life of Stella, the daughter of a single

    Clever Girl follows the life of Stella, the daughter of a single mother, from her childhood through middle age.

    The writing is spectacular. Hadley's prose made me feel as if I could see Stella's history and her current life all at once: Stella as the young girl I met at the beginning of the novel, and at the same time, Stella as the adult narrator, a mother with two children.

    However, I had issues with Stella's relationship with her mother and stepfather, as well as her connection to a creepy teacher who turns into a dear friend. The dynamic between Stella and these characters shifted suddenly and without much (if any) explanation. I had trouble believing or understanding these shifts; a bit more detail would have remedied that.

    This novel has a definite sense of ennui throughout, which may not be appealing to some readers. There is plenty of drama in Stella's life, but plenty of ordinary as well. I think readers who enjoy character-driven novels (I couldn't help but think of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings) will enjoy Clever Girl.

    3 1/2 stars.
    I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

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  • Posted March 17, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Most people lead ordinary lives, and their stories may not be th

    Most people lead ordinary lives, and their stories may not be that fascinating to others. Stella is one of those people in Tessa Hadley's Clever Girl.  Stella lived with her single mother in a city in 1960s England. Her mother told her that her father had died when Stella was a baby, but Stella learned that he had actually left them.
    She was close to her mother, as it was just the two of them. That is, until the day Stella's mother remarries, and Stella gets a stepfather and then a baby brother.  Stella does well in school, she is a clever girl, until she discovers boys and falls madly in love with Val. They spend all of their time together, but something is not quite right.
    Stella makes one mistake that changes her entire life and future. Instead of graduating and going to university, Stella becomes pregnant, and Val heads off the United States to avoid trouble, not even knowing he will be a father.
    Clever Girl realistically shows the difficulties of being an unwed mother, having a child so young. Stella and the baby move from her mother's home to stay with her aunt. I love this description of Stella at this time:"I wasn't quite grateful enough; this was just a flaw in my character at that time in my life, I couldn't help seeing things bitterly, looking at everything-even kindness- with irony."Stella ends up working and living at a boys boarding school. She leaves there to move in with Fred, an old teacher of Val's, who now teaches at the boarding school.  From there she ends up living at a commune, having another baby.
    She has two young sons to support and no good job prospects. She moves back in with Fred, who adores her sons. Stella's life suffocates her, and she takes to running away; she drops the boys off at her mother's, and then she runs away, not knowing when she will return.
    Stella finally gets to be a clever girl when she goes to university. Like many older students, she focused on working hard and succeeding."It was such a relief to be clever at last. For years I had to keep my cleverness cramped and concealed- not because it was dangerous or forbidden but because it had no useful function my daily life."We get to see Stella from childhood to middle-age and though she may be an ordinary person,Hadley tells her story in such a compelling way as to make her life interesting to the reader. It took me awhile to appreciate Stella, but by the end of the novel, I truly did.
    Clever Girl reminded me of Colm Toibin's Brooklyn and Alice McDermott's Someone, both in style and substance. All three of these celebrate the life of an ordinary woman, leading a quiet, yet ultimately meaningful life.

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