After the Funeral

Tessa Hadley

After the Funeral
Format
Hardback
Publisher
Vintage Publishing
Country
United Kingdom
Published
11 July 2023
Pages
240
ISBN
9781787333680

After the Funeral

Tessa Hadley

In each of the twelve stories in After the Funeral, small events have huge consequences. Heloise's father died in a car crash when she was a little girl; at a dinner party in her forties, she meets someone connected to that long-ago tragedy. Two estranged sisters cross paths at a posh hotel and pretend not to recognise each other. Janey's bohemian mother plans to marry a man close to Janey's own age - everything changes when an accident interrupts the wedding party. A daughter caring for her elderly mother during the pandemic becomes obsessed with the woman next door; in the wake of his best friend's death, a man must reassess his affair with the friend's wife. Teenager Cecilia wakes one morning on vacation with her parents in Florence and sees them for the first time through disenchanted eyes.

As psychologically astute as they are emotionally rich, these stories illuminate the enduring conflicts between responsibility and freedom, power and desire, convention and subversion, reality and dreams. A vital addition to Tessa Hadley's celebrated body of work, After the Funeral bears out Claire Messud's observation that 'Like Alice Munro, to whom she has more than once been compared, Hadley has the gift of making small canvases inexhaustibly new . . . Compassionate and luminous, Hadley sees them all - or should I say, she sees us all- our travails, our fantasies and our small joys.'

Review

I mentioned to a writer friend that I was reading this collection and she reminded me that I’d recommended Tessa Hadley’s novel Late in the Day to her some years ago; she was underwhelmed – ‘Why do you like her?’ I can’t wait to get this collection into her hands; I’m sure she’ll have to change her tune and it will be very obvious why I like Hadley’s writing.

These short stories have mostly been published in The New Yorker and are collected here for the first time. They have a similar melancholic air to Alice Munro’s stories; it’s these expositions of human frailties that attract me. An English couple and their adolescent daughter visit Florence; they’ve been before, they know their way around, the lie of the land. The father is pompous, the mother timid and the adolescent, well, adolescent. Her father proclaims that Italians resent tourists, who, unlike their family, don’t appreciate what they are seeing: their family is simpatico; they can trespass and intrude because they have a different sensibility. The daughter realises that they don’t; they are just as boorish and rude as all the other tourists.

In another story, a woman meets someone at a dinner party and is drawn to her. Years before, her father had died in a car crash in Europe together with a young woman; another young woman in the car was badly injured. The woman at the party recounts how she was injured in a car crash in Europe in which a man and her friend died.

A rather plain young woman has a side hustle cooking for her parents’ friends’ dinner parties; as word gets out, she’s called to a stranger’s house. The woman is very striking, glamorous and imperious; the house is beautiful. After the party, the woman offers to drive her home; she tells the young woman how unhappy she is; when they arrive at the young woman’s house, she doesn’t pay her for her work. It’s these small, unsettling details that make these stories so powerful and that attest to Hadley’s impressive talent.

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