In Tessa Hadley’s latest novel, Late in the Day, the lives of two married couples are forever changed by a premature death. Alex and Christine and Zachary and Lydia have been friends since their twenties. Now in their fifties they are still emotionally tied to one another, their friendship relying on each other playing their part. When Zachary dies a sudden and untimely death, the three remaining friends find themselves struggling with both the loss of the funny, grounding Zachary but also the changing dynamic he leaves behind.
In a recent interview, Tessa Hadley claimed to have panicked that Late in the Day would turn out to be too glum dealing as it does with long-term marriages, middle age and death. However, although it is often melancholic, it’s never glum, perhaps because Hadley has such control over her material, reining in any soap opera-style tragedy or dull drudgery. This control also means that the novel is at once an exploration of the everyday sadness of loss, the intricacies of friendships, the lies marriages can sustain, as well as a wonderfully subversive prod at middle aged and middle-class anxieties.
“Is it drawing to a close, do you think? Our bourgeois sensibility…Our privilege of subtlety and irony is at an end” says one character to another. A pointed line considering all of the friends have ended up in traditional marriages with traditional roles, almost despite of themselves. Lines like these are the key to Hadley’s novels, restrained and graceful but with a slyness that makes you sit up straight in your chair, aware that Hadley can see underneath the veneer of human interaction and will offer up bare truths if you pay attention. Although ostensibly a London novel centred around four characters, it feels much larger especially as it cleverly moves from past to present, as well as to different countries widening its reach and exploring universal themes of love, loss, friendship, class and sex.
‘Sex looked like a cheap trick from the outside, but in its moment it burned up the world. You could not have everything: the whole wisdom of life amounted to that. Whatever you had, was instead of something else.’ Alex laments as he begins to understand his father’s infidelities in facing his own. It is this eternal tussle between past and present that fuels the novel and makes for such an engrossing and enduring read.
Late In The Day is available on 14th February 2019, published by Jonathan Cape.