The profoundly different choices of a mother and her daughter infuse this rich, expansive novel with both intimate detail and wide resonance
When Joyce Stevenson is thirteen, her family moves to the south of England to live with their aunt Vera. Joyce's mother, Lil, is a widow; Vera has a husband who keeps his suits in the wardrobe but spends evenings at another house nearby. While the two sisters couldn't be more different-Vera, a teacher, has unquestioning belief in the powers of education and reason; Lil puts her faith in séances-they work together to form a tight-knit family.
Joyce sees that there is something missing in their lives: men. She doesn't want to end up like her aunt Vera, rejected by her husband. Joyce discovers art at school: she falls in love with the Impressionists and, eventually, with one of her teachers. In spite of the temptations of the sixties, she is determined to make her marriage and motherhood a success. When Joyce's daughter, Zoe, grows up and has a baby of her own, however, she proves to be impatient with domestic life and chooses a dramatically different path.
Spanning five decades of extraordinary changes in women's lives, Everything Will Be All Right explores the complicated relationships of a family. The young ones of each generation are sure that they can correct the mistakes of their parents; the truth, of course, is more opaque. Intricate and insightful, Everything Will Be All Right firmly establishes Tessa Hadley among the great contemporary observers of the human mind and heart.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|File size:||378 KB|
About the Author
Tessa Hadley teaches literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University College. Her first novel, Accidents in the Home, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, was longlisted for The Guardian's First Book Award. She lives in Cardiff, Wales.
Read an Excerpt
From Everything Will Be All Rightt :
Zoe studied her face with concentration in the mirror. She was forty-three. There must have been changes over the past couple of years, only she hadn't had time to take them in until today: a leaching of color from her skin and hair, perhaps; a loss of resilience, so that the little lines didn't spring back when she stopped grimacing. She worried now, when it was presumably too late, that she had never used anti-wrinkle cream or taken vitamins. Joyce spent at least half an hour in front of her mirror every day, "getting ready." Zoe truly didn't know what you were supposed to do in that time; the full extent of her beauty regime involved washing her face and running a comb through her hair.
She had thought she was too intelligent to worry over the usual women's trivia. Now she wondered if she hadn't simply taken youth and freshness carelessly for granted; and she was suddenly swamped in a bewildered vanity.
Reading Group Guide
1. Do you think male and female readers will respond differently to Everything Will Be All Right?
Why? Is there such a thing as a women's novel? A man's novel? Explain.
2. What is the significance of time and place in the story? In what ways do history and culture shape each of the character's personalities? How has history and culture shaped your own life differently from, say, your parents and, if applicable, your children?
3. When comparing her mother to her aunt, the young Joyce believes "that although Aunt Vera could be hateful, with her loud superior voice and her bruising definitiveness, Joyce thought that in such a contest it would be safer to be bruising than bruised" (pg 22). What does this statement reveal about her character? Are there other examples of this attitude of hers elsewhere in the novel? Does it explain anything about her later affection for Pearl?
4. On page 33, Joyce notes "that when Lil and Vera talked about men. . . they often used this language of mock conflict, as if there had to be a war between men and women." In what ways do the male/female relationships in the novel reinforce that belief? In what ways do they disprove it?
Which couples in the book are particularly embattled? Why? Do changes in history and culture seem to affect the way men and women relate in the novel?
5. Consider Ray's comments to Joyce on page 139: "Sometimes it feels to a man. . . as if women want to make the world sweet. . . But it's not sweet. And it's sometimes a strain, standing on guard, pretending to the woman that everything's going to be all right, everything's nice." Do you agree or disagree with Ray? Why? Where else in the novel does a character tell another that
"everything will be all right"? How do those two scenes differ? What do they say about the title of the book?
6. As a young female student, Joyce describes how "once she had come, through books mostly, to believe that there had really been other times in the past when things were done differently, she felt sure that the past must have been a better place" (pp. 146-7). How has reading affected your perspective of the past? Are there advantages and dangers to learning about history through fiction? Explain.
7. Discuss the female characters' various feelings about their appearance. How do each of them perceive their looks and its importance in the world? Do you think that Hadley believes that social attitudes towards women's physical appearance has changed during the five decades depicted in the novel? If you're a women, do you relate to the self-image of any of the characters? Why?
8. Chapter five portrays the complex relationship between two young women, Zoe and Fiona. What attracts the two women to each other? What pulls them apart? Can you think of a similar such friendship that you may have had in your life? Finally, discuss the role that class and social expectations of the 1960s plays in the separate fates of each women.
9. Why do you think Zoe and Simon are attracted to each other? How do their initial feelings concerning family and parenthood differ? How do those perspectives change? Did your perceptions of Zoe and Simon shift over the course of the novel?
10. The novel ends amid recent world events. What are those events? And how do the various
characters react? Do you think the novel ends on a hopeful or ominous note?