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Everything Will Be All Right by Tessa Hadley

Everything Will Be All Right (2003)

by Tessa Hadley

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A novel that spans more than fifty years of lived experience, unless it is bound to a singular protagonist, will need to focus on first one individual and then another and then another. Who the author chooses to put principally in our gaze becomes as significant, at times, as what they end up saying and doing. Here, Tessa Hadley traces a line through a series of women, mother to daughter, through four generations. But of course over that many generations there will also be a host of other candidates, in this case also mostly women, who might have been equally worthy of further attention. And likewise there will be themes that take on the centre stage while others just as enticing wait patiently off-stage. Sometimes these choices will coalesce into a tightly wound cord of character, action, and theme. Sometimes these choices will result in a diffuse sprawl. The latter is the case in this novel. The question is whether a bit of sprawl is a weakness in itself, especially if, as might be hinted here, life itself just does tend towards sprawl.

The women catching Tessa Hadley’s eye begin with Lil, whose husband died on the beaches during the disaster that was Dunkirk. Lil’s oldest daughter, Joyce, the picks up the author’s gaze when she is a teenager, eventually heading off to art college and marrying one of her drawing instructors. Joyce’s daughter, Zoe, takes over for a time until we end up with Zoe’s daughter, Pearl. Each of these women has different aspirations and inclinations. They tend towards a fierce intelligence that emerges in varying forms. And although they have very different temperaments, there is an inescapable sense of sameness across them. A bit Radio 4? A bit Women’s Hour? Perhaps it’s just the curse of living in a thoroughly moderated and modulated class-bound society. How could they hope to be distinctive? And that raises a slight problem, because the women in the larger tale who really are distinctive, such as Lil’s sister Vera, are shunted off to the sidelines. Or at least it seems that way.

And how do the men fare in such a novel? Not well. Not well, at all. Across the generations, it seems like Lil, whose husband dies at Dunkirk, has just about the best that can be hoped for from a man. Even the one relationship that persists, between Joyce and Ray, shows Ray as overbearing and egotistical and, frankly, insufferable. One rather wishes that he could have met his Dunkirk as well. And that goes double for Zoe’s partner, Simon. But the one who tops them all is Vera’s husband, Dick, who totally lives up to his name.

It doesn’t sound like a recipe for a thoroughly engrossing novel, does it? And yet, I found it so. It is variable, certainly. At times the tone and level of seriousness switches into a different key, if you will, without seeming to want to sustain it. But overall it remains a colourful canvas of women, the choices some of them make, and the consequences of those choices. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Dec 8, 2014 |
Everything Will Be All Right: A Novel by Tessa Hadley (2004)
  michelestjohn | Mar 26, 2010 |
I have just finished reading Tessa Hadley's Everythings will be All Right. Oh I do wish it would have been.

Even though there were sentences and expressions within, which I found to be very insightful, I found the whole experience of reading the book a terrible chore.

It basically was the life history of three generations of women, seen through their eyes. Their life's were full of self-inflicted grief, and it really was an account of how they got themselves into scrapes and out again, mostly involving men, and a baby thrown in for good measure (not to mention the death from meningitus).

It isn't a book I would recommend, I only finished it because I set myself the task, which felt more like hard labour, and because I met the author, who I found very interesting, unlike her tale - which appears was loosely biographical tales from her family. I also took it's promise on the cover at face value...

"Everything will be alright" - well I wished it had been, but unfortunately it wasn't. Shani 21.09.06 ( )
  Phethean | Sep 20, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312423640, Paperback)

When Joyce Stevenson is thirteen, her family moves to the south of England to live with their aunt Vera. Vera and her sister Lil aren't at all alike. Vera, a teacher, has unquestioning belief in the powers of education and reason; Lil puts her faith in seances. Joyce is determined to be different: she falls in love with art (and her art teacher). Spanning five decades of extraordinary change in women's lives, Everything Will Be All Right explores the tangled history of one family and the disasters, hopes, compromises, and ambitions of successive generations.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:36 -0400)

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"When Joyce Stevenson is thirteen, her family moves to the south of England to live with their aunt Vera. Her mother, Lil, is a widow; Vera has a husband who keeps his suits in the wardrobe but spends evenings at another house nearby. The two sisters couldn't be more different - Vera, a teacher, has unquestioning belief in the powers of education and reason; she is exasperated by Lil's faith in spiritualist seances. Yet they work together to form a tight-knit family." "Joyce watches them and sees that something is missing in their lives: men. She doesn't want to end up like Aunt Vera, buttoned awkwardly into unflattering clothes, rejected by her husband. Joyce discovers the art room at school: she falls in love with the sensuousness of lemons, the French Impressionists, and, eventually, one of her teachers at the art college. In spite of the temptations of the sixties, she is determined to make marriage and motherhood a success. When Joyce's daughter, Zoe, grows up and has a baby of her own, however, Zoe proves impatient with domestic life, and chooses a very different path." "Spanning five decades of extraordinary change in women's lives, Everything Will Be All Right explores the complicated relationships in one family. The young ones of each generation are sure they can correct the mistakes of their parents; the truth, of course, is more opaque."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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