My mother liked to say after my father died, all sins were forgiven when someone died young while the rest of us had to muddle on into old age. When Tessa Hadley has one of her four main characters die unexpectedly and suddenly in the first chapter, his story is just beginning but he is not the hero of the piece.
Lydia and Christine have known each other since childhood, best friends forever, with compatible boyfriends who evolve into husbands and a foursome of dedicated friends as adults. Inevitably, even their children become best friends.
In her review Johanna Thomas-Corr calls them “two upper-middle-class boho couples who sit around listening to Schubert…”
Hadley neatly fills in the backstory with flashbacks and updates, noting the differences between the two women – Christine, willowy and fragile, a serious Ph.D. candidate who decides to pursue her talent for art when Zachary admires her work; Lydia, a flashy and charismatic schemer, who is happy to be lazy. Lydia’s unrequited love for Alex, the poet with Czech refugee parents, drives her to marry wealthy Zachary, who has been dating Christine. Christine marries Alex, and the foursome survives, but it’s complicated. In one phone call, three decades of tangled friendship and love is dissolved.
Rebecca Makai’s review for the New York Times notes:
“As their lives unravel, we wonder with Christine if the “questioning of impervious male knowledge had always come to women at a certain age, in their prime, as they grew out of the illusions of girlhood… By the end, the romantic fates of the couples’ two grown daughters are still being left to fate and chance, while Christine and Lydia begin for the first time to make their own choices…It might not be history that frees us, Hadley seems to suggest, but personal history, a late coming-of-age.”
I’m a fan of Tessa Hadley, having first met her on The London Train. Once referred to as the British Anne Tyler, Hadley’s strength is not in the plot but in the nuances in her characters. Have you read any of her work?