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Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley
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Bad Dreams and Other Stories

by Tessa Hadley

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This is a collection of stories about ordinary people and places and ordinary happenings, but all with a hint of mystery and deep, ruminating observation of the human experience. I like Tessa Hadley's writing style very much and there are a few stories in this collection that I really enjoyed. But overall, I was underwhelmed by this book. The stories all began to run together in my mind and some felt unfinished. This is the first I've read of Hadley's work, but I will certainly pick up something else of hers. ( )
  saresmoore | Mar 20, 2018 |
listened to sample story 'abduction', 25 jan 18
  lulaa | Jan 25, 2018 |
Tessa Hadley's short stories are always deceptive, in a good way. They come off as small tales of ordinary people (a child plagued by nightmares, a housekeeper, two sisters at odds over the sale of their parents; home), often in mundane situations. But what Hadley brings to their stories is a remarkable level of authenticity of character. She has mastered the language of thought, of interior emotions like few other writers today. These are people who think as we tend to think, who feel in the ways that we often feel, and yet she conveys this not through vague, abstract words but through concrete objects, visual snapshots, lingering sounds, metaphors. It's quite a skill, and it serves her well.

The ten stories in this collection vary greatly yet are all linked by a moment of self-discovery. In "Abduction," set in the 1960s, a teenaged girl left home alone on break accepts a ride from three unknown boys. It might have gone the way of Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are you Going? Where Have you Been?" but Hadley is too perceptive to fall for that trap. In "One Saturday Morning," a 10-year old opens the door to an unknown acquaintance of her parents while they run errands. Their conversation, and the one that she overhears when her parents come home, give her a first peek into adult life and a moment of maturing empathy. Claire, the focus of "Flight," is a successful woman who returns to visit her working class sister, using the birth of a nephew as an excuse for reconciliation, but perhaps her intentions are not as altruistic as she would like to believe. A housekeeper reads her employer's diary, uncovering secrets that change their relationship. A designer is called on to create a trousseau for a former classmate.

Simple stories, simple moments, extraordinary insights into human nature conveyed through Hadley's perceptiveness and masterful style. ( )
  Cariola | Jul 13, 2017 |
I was looking forward to reading Tessa Hadley's new volume of short stories, Bad Dreams, but it was even better than I expected and I couldn't stop thinking about some of these stories afterwards. The stories in Bad Dreams range across different times and places but always focus on relationships and families, memories and women's experiences, and the defining incidents in people's lives: a moment of realisation, a moment that set someone's life on a different path or a childhood experience that they always remember.

There are many reasons that I like Tessa Hadley's work so much: her characterisation and psychological insight, the way her characters seem alive, without any cliche whatsoever. The way she can describe and strongly evoke places, whether it's suburbia in the 1960s or modern-day Leeds and London. I especially notice the vivid way she describes houses and the secret life going on inside a home. Some of her stories almost miraculously capture a child's point of view and the sense of viewing the adult world from an outsider's perspective, with a child's curiosity and anxiety and gradual understanding.

One of the most striking stories was the first, An Abduction, which is set in the 1960s and describes how a teenage girl ended up getting in a car with a group of older boys, students on holiday from university. Jane, the main character, is portrayed as ordinary, conventional, from a conservative background and lacking in confidence, while Daniel, the leader of the boys is charismatic, intellectual and self-destructive. The events of the story are surprising and show that Jane has more of a rebellious streak than first appears. The setting is rather dreamlike and nostalgic and to me it seemed to capture the youth culture of the 1960s and a sense of different worlds being thrown together. A sort of coda at the end of the story, which describes what happened to the characters later on, is very powerful, as it shows the different ways people can view the same event, how what is important and life-defining to one person can mean nothing to another, and how a successful person can have a buried past that not even they themselves really know about. There is a sort of understated anger and intensity to the ending.

Probably my favourite story however was Flight, the story of Claire, a 40-something woman with a successful career in America, returning to visit her childhood home and sister's family in Leeds. I loved the way the family relationships were described and the sense of distance Claire felt from the others, which was something she had deliberately chosen and welcomed but also grieved over. I really liked how Hadley gradually revealed more about the family background and hinted that Claire was more troubled than she first seemed. The ending was perfectly written and I felt there was something heartbreaking about it.

Another story I enjoyed was The Stain, a story about a young woman working as a carer for a wealthy and elderly man. It's a very realistic, contemporary story and it is really refreshing to see working-class characters who are complex and real. A few stories move earlier into the 20th century; Deeds Not Words is set at the time of the first world war and women's suffrage movement, while Silk Brocade is about two young seamstresses in the 1960s. Most of my favourites are the contemporary stories, however; apart from the ones I've mentioned, I really liked Experience, about a recently divorced 20-something house-sitting for an older, more glamorous woman and what happens when she starts to reads her diaries. I felt this story had an impact because of the contrast between the narrator, who feels she hasn't really lived properly, and Hana with her destructive love affairs and unapologetic way of living. The narrator's encounter with Julian is emotionally intense, and I really liked the way the narrator's and Hana's roles were reversed at the end of the story.

To sum up: in case it isn't obvious, I thought this book was wonderful and am sure I will think about these stories for a long time to come. ( )
1 vote papercat | May 28, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062476661, Hardcover)

The award-winning author of The Past once again "crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural" (Washington Post), in a collection of stories that elevate the mundane into the exceptional.

The author of six critically acclaimed novels, Tessa Hadley has proven herself to be the champion of revealing the hidden depths in the deceptively simple. In these short stories it’s the ordinary things that turn out to be most extraordinary: the history of a length of fabric or a forgotten jacket.

Two sisters quarrel over an inheritance and a new baby; a child awake in the night explores the familiar rooms of her home, made strange by the darkness; a housekeeper caring for a helpless old man uncovers secrets from his past. The first steps into a turning point and a new life are made so easily and carelessly: each of these stories illuminate crucial moments of transition, often imperceptible to the protagonists.

A girl accepts a lift in a car with some older boys; a young woman reads the diaries she discovers while housesitting. Small acts have large consequences, some that can reverberate across decades; private fantasies can affect other people, for better and worse. The real things that happen to people, the accidents that befall them, are every bit as mysterious as their longings and their dreams.

Bad Dreams and Other Stories demonstrates yet again that Tessa Hadley "puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master" (Lily King, author of Euphoria).

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 16 Nov 2016 20:58:28 -0500)

The award-winning author of The Past once again "crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural" (Washington Post), in a collection of stories that elevate the mundane into the exceptional. The author of six critically acclaimed novels, Tessa Hadley has proven herself to be the champion of revealing the hidden depths in the deceptively simple. In these short stories it's the ordinary things that turn out to be most extraordinary: the history of a length of fabric or a forgotten jacket. Two sisters quarrel over an inheritance and a new baby; a child awake in the night explores the familiar rooms of her home, made strange by the darkness; a housekeeper caring for a helpless old man uncovers secrets from his past. The first steps into a turning point and a new life are made so easily and carelessly: each of these stories illuminate crucial moments of transition, often imperceptible to the protagonists. A girl accepts a lift in a car with some older boys; a young woman reads the diaries she discovers while housesitting. Small acts have large consequences, some that can reverberate across decades; private fantasies can affect other people, for better and worse. The real things that happen to people, the accidents that befall them, are every bit as mysterious as their longings and their dreams. Bad Dreams and Other Stories demonstrates yet again that Tessa Hadley "puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master" (Lily King, author of Euphoria).… (more)

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