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Clever Girl (2013)

by Tessa Hadley

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2432799,434 (3.62)22
Follows Stella, a lower-middle-class British girl born in the 1950s, whose coming-of-age experiences mirror the broader cultural development of her times.

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» See also 22 mentions

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Episodic infancy-to-middle-age novels have rather fallen out of fashion since Roxana and Moll Flanders, but the "just one damn thing after another" approach to fiction can still be very effective, as this book demonstrates. Hadley spent quite some years writing about her heroine Stella (several chapters were originally published as standalone short stories) before stitching it all together into a novel that takes her from a sixties childhood in a single parent family in an inner-city district of Bristol right through to 21st century middle-class life outside Taunton with an Aga, a businessman husband, and a complicated extended family of children and stepchildren that would do credit to a Margaret Drabble heroine.

There's not much obvious coherence in the plot: the things that drive the course of Stella's life are almost all complete accidents, good and bad: the point of the book seems to be in her ability as first-person narrator to take a step back from herself and look coolly at the things that are happening to her and how she has dealt with them. And of course in Hadley's clever ability to capture the feel of each of the decades she whisks us through in a few telling images.

The question of Stella's "cleverness" doesn't quite come to the fore quite as much as the title leads us to expect. This isn't a Jeanette Winterson novel in which the clever heroine is constantly surrounded by stupid people of both sexes. Hadley quietly allows Stella to switch her interest in bookish things on and off at will, depending on the stage of life she happens to be going through — it's OK to be perceived to be clever at school and later on as a mature student at university, but it's not a good look when you're a struggling teenage single mum and part-time waitress. Obviously, that's something that real people (women in particular) feel obliged to do in real situations, but it struck me as behaviour you don't often see in fictional characters. Interesting. ( )
  thorold | Jul 26, 2021 |
Clever Girl follows our main character, Stella, through all her struggles, decisions, and mistakes. You see the course of her life as if she was retelling it at an old age. There is a great deal of pain in her life caused by others and her own flaws. You get to know her in a very intimate, personal way. She's an ordinary woman that goes through life making the same mistakes that everyone else does. By having this story about someone who could be anyone there was a sense of connection I felt towards Stella. With all her faults and mistakes I couldn't help think about my own life and how I'll decide to live it. Even if someone knows what they want they can get sidetracked like Stella ultimately does at a very young age. Young love, early pregnancies to two fathers that aren't or can't be around, Stella faces it alone with the help of some strangers and some friends from time to time. She kind of becomes her mother which if pretty funny because I think that's what daughters (and even me) fear is going to happen to them. It's also funny when she starts mentioning her sons at points of the story even before they are born since her second born is clearly exactly like her wild, angry-at-the-world self.

Stella has an argumentative, push-and-pull personality and relationship as she develops in her teen years. You could just see where everything was going to go downhill. She was hanging around a boy who of course her mother and stepfather didn't approve of. Stella has never approved of her stepfather. Her angry side really came out when he came into the mix. I think when you're a teenager you go through this transition where you are pissed at your parents, the world, and everyone in it. You see only what you want. We don't really grow out of our selfishness that kids inherently have in them. I saw myself in the way she acted when she was younger. I wasn't nearly as rebellious, my rebelliousness was pretty much nonexistent - it was there in spirit, but I could still see the selfishness of not wanting to grow up that I'm sure many people grapple with.

You see her mature out of this stage of standoffishness towards others but you also see the mistakes she continues to make. I wanted to tell her to stop! You have something good. Stop messing it up. There's this air of sadness that comes with her life yet she does try her hardest to make her life better for her and her sons. She struggles so much! This story could be really tragic at times. There are those moments where she gets away from that sadness and I love those moments. I wanted to see her succeed. This book produced so much overwhelming emotions in me. It's a really great story about growing up and overcoming all the things thrown at you in life including your own misguided ways. ( )
  AdrianaGarcia | Jul 10, 2018 |
Strange story but pretty good. ( )
  mahallett | Jan 22, 2018 |
Episodes in the lives (sic) of a "clever girl", Stella, through the 1960s and a communal experience to the present. Beautifully done and set in and about London, Stella is thrust in a life-long journey of managing the "null" of reliving her Mum's life while retaining her clever observations and outlook on her own lives. Hadley infuses Stella with the ability to rule the day in a reflection of the past. ( )
  LaRoque | May 20, 2017 |
I kept looking for who was supposed to be so "clever" in this book---the writing was good, beautifully descriptive but I wasn't thrilled with the main character and kept waiting for her to show that she really WAS clever...with her life? ( )
  nyiper | Dec 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Stella is a clever girl though – and Hadley cleverer still. She makes one believe every word of Stella's story. But to feel engaged, to need to read on, you want to feel Stella could be a friend. I believed in her but could not warm to her. Other readers may fare better.
added by thorold | editThe Guardian, Kate Kellaway (May 12, 2013)
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The word adventures carries in it so free and licentious a sound . . .
that it can hardly with propriety be applied to those few and natural
incidents which compose the history of a woman of honour.
Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752
To Sam
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My mother and I lived alone.
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Follows Stella, a lower-middle-class British girl born in the 1950s, whose coming-of-age experiences mirror the broader cultural development of her times.

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Average: (3.62)
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