Writers & Company

In Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley tests the fault lines of long married love and friendship

The British author's seventh novel explores the nature of love, romance and aging in relationships.
Tessa Jane Hadley is a British author of novels, short stories and nonfiction. (Mark Vessey, Random House Canada UK Distribution)
Listen to the full episode53:09

Tessa Hadley's fiction has been widely praised for its brilliant illumination of ordinary lives. The English writer's new novel, Late in the Day, explores how a sudden death disrupts the intertwined stories of two long-married couples, who are also good friends. An intimate look at the subtleties of adult life, the book has been praised for its psychological acuity and muted wit — signatures of Hadley, who has drawn comparisons to Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov and Alice Munro. 

In 2016, Hadley was the recipient of a Windham-Campbell Prize, an award worth $150,000 US that recognizes exceptional literary achievement. She published her first book at the age of 46, and is the author of seven novels and three collections of short stories. 

Hadley lives in London and teaches at Bath Spa University. She spoke to Eleanor Wachtel from Edinburgh. 

'Til death do us part

"Being married for a long time is a triumph of human patience and a measure of reasoning and kindness. I don't think a long marriage can endure out of selfishness. Two people who choose to be with each other at a young age — and then endure through the decades together — that involves an intelligent kind of human work.

"On the other hand, do long marriages sometimes endure because of cowardice or a lack of imagination?

"There's always two sides to these types of questions. It's such a rich subject for a novelist, because you can push it one way, lead it down another path or have somebody else's perspective on it. It just keeps on giving."

Responses to grief

"In the hours and first days after a death, you're still so freshly with the person who was alive, as it were, yesterday. And then something extraordinary happens, where you start to tell the same stories about the person.

Being married for a long time is a triumph of human patience and a measure of reasoning and kindness.- Tessa Hadley

"The memories fall into a sort of fixed position and that person is no longer there to come back in and disrupt them and remind you that, 'They're not quite that they're this!'

"They're not quite what you think they are. There's this other side to them."

The nature of women

"There's something about my generation where women can have such different plans and expectations for life — but somehow they end up living inside the shelter of a man's relationship with the world. The novel form, across history, has been interested in women; so many of the great centres of consciousness in the European and American novel have been young women.

I'm a bit of an imaginative swooner. But I don't like sentimentality — the red roses, Valentine's Day and that sort of stuff.- Tessa Hadley

"It's partly because they're not out in the world. They're not fighting a public battle or espousing a cause or forging a politics or even an art. They are dwelling in almost an empty free space. Maybe the reason artists are so interested in depicting women in novels — and sometimes in paintings too — is because the male artist sees that inside the woman is held this free space that can't easily be entered from outside; a space that belongs to her, where she can reflect and dream and think and wonder."

Romantically inclined

"When one is young and looking for love, it is attractive — when one is dithering, uncertain and trying on a thousand personae while not quite feeling that they're any one of them — to find the person who cuts through all that and is just sublimely themselves. That's very appealing. But I think, maybe as one grows older, it's less so.

"Does that make me a romantic? Well maybe it does. I was certainly wholehearted in succumbing to people when I was younger and romantically falling in love in the literary sense.

"I'm a bit of an imaginative swooner. But I don't like sentimentality — the red roses, Valentine's Day and that sort of stuff."

Tessa Hadley's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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