Tessa Hadley’s latest collection of stories is rich in psychological insights and subversive humour, woven into her beautifully detached writing. Married Love deals with various intimate relationships: between spouses, and family, as in the title story, as well as lovers and godchildren. But the title serves well as a ironic reminder: the cliched labels that we use are so inadequate when we consider all that is left unspoken.
The title story follows a young university student who marries her much older lecturer. Her family treats the news as something of a joke initially; but within a few pages her altered ambitions, her understanding of her husband, her family’s faults and her own enduring emotions elevate the story of an unwise match to an authentic life we cannot judge so simply.
The other stories carry a thread of tension, exploring those moments in life that turn on tiny details, that transform us, but seem incomprehensible or even forgettable to those who experienced them. A lingering sense of unease – like flicking through a stranger’s family album or spying through their window – persists, so convincing are these flashes of sadness, longing and changes of heart.
Although time and place are clearly marked throughout the collection – current events and modern technology appear, and there are stories set in the 1970s and 1920s – specifics of places or even people are utterly shadowed by Hadley’s achievement in portraying the complexity of all people; the intricacy of the web of moments and exchanges – or non-moments and non-exchanges – that create a relationship.
‘Hadley joins Munro and Tóibín as one of the most clear-sighted chroniclers of contemporary emotional journeys.’
‘Movie clips of lives in transit, their small shifts of focus yielding up flashes of psychological insight.’