Book Review: Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-03-04
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: HarperCollins

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.

I received this book for free from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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My Review:

I really struggled with Clever Girl, I’m going to put that right out there first.  I seriously flirted with putting it down about five times, all before my usual minimum pages to be read before doing just that (63 pages, by the way).  But I pushed through and forced myself to pick up that book and .. around page 60, I finally was caught.  It’s not often that I struggle like that for a book I end up rather enjoying by the end, but still.. my experience was tainted by those first 59 pages and, frankly, for a book this size (only 212 pages on my e-reader) that’s a bit of an ouchie.

So, Clever Girl did not merit a four or five stars from me.  The ending of the book was a solid three and a half stars to four stars, so it wasn’t all lost, it was just that damned beginning.  I just didn’t care about Stella and I was so confused by the cast of characters surrounding here (I still don’t remember who a few at the end were) that I just kinda shrugged and pushed forward, hoping it would all work itself out.  It did, kind of.  But still, there were things left up in the air for me … I wouldn’t say resolved, because I’d have to know who some of the people were to resolve their parts.

Where this book really shone was the writing.  It was downright beautiful.  I could be totally cliche and pull out all of the adjectives used to describe writing like this: lyrical, musical, flowing – but let me just say that the writing far outshone the story being told.  Unfortunately, I don’t read books to read beautiful writing, I read them for a story.  That took second place here and it was far enough behind in the race that it almost didn’t finish as a result.  There needs to be a good balance and Hadley didn’t find it, in my opinion.

I was sad that I didn’t fall in love with Hadley’s writing in Clever Girl.  I know she has other titles out and I was hoping that I would be compelled to seek them out.  Unfortunately, that won’t be happening – however, if you would enjoy an extremely leisurely paced novel about a girl growing up in England from the 60′s on, then check out Clever Girl.  It might just work well for you.

Check out these reviews!

  • “If you love literary fiction and character studies, Clever Girl is a fantastic novel that provokes questions of love and purpose through life’s dips and turns. ” – Write Meg!
  • “As much as I loved Hadley’s Married Love, set in similar situations to those that Stella finds herself in, I just didn’t feel the same tug of recognition and emotional truth that was present in that collection. ”  – BookNAround
  • “The story flows well, with not too many moments of shock or surprise. ” – Books in the Burbs

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