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Clever Girl: A Novel

Clever Girl: A Novel

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Clever Girl: A Novel

4/5 (28 avaliações)
309 página
6 horas
Lançado em:
Mar 4, 2014

Nota do editor

As intimate as a memoir…

Hadley depicts the inner life of her protagonist and narrator, Stella, with the intimacy of a memoir. In doing so, she captures the world with an accuracy, detail, and poetry so authentic that you’ll forget it’s fiction.


Clever Girl is an indelible story of one woman’s life, unfolded in a series of beautifully sculpted episodes that illuminate an era, moving from the 1960s to today, from one of Britain’s leading literary lights—Tessa Hadley—the author of the New York Times Notable Books Married Love and The London Train.

Like Alice Munro and Colm Tóibin, Tessa Hadley brilliantly captures the beauty, innocence, and irony of ordinary lives—an ability to transform the mundane into the sublime that elevates domestic fiction to literary art.

Written with the celebrated precision, intensity, and complexity that have marked her previous works, Clever Girl is a powerful exploration of family relationships and class in modern life, witnessed through the experiences of an English woman named Stella. Unfolding in a series of snapshots, Tessa Hadley’s moving novel follows Stella from the shallows of childhood, growing up with a single mother in a Bristol bedsit in the 1960s, into the murky waters of middle age.

Clever Girl is a story vivid in its immediacy and rich in drama—violent deaths, failed affairs, broken dreams, missed chances. Yet it is Hadley’s observations of everyday life, her keen skill at capturing the ways men and women think and feel and relate to one another, that dazzles.

Lançado em:
Mar 4, 2014

Sobre o autor

Tessa Hadley is the author of six highly acclaimed novels, including Clever Girl and The Past, as well as three short-story collections, most recently Bad Dreams and Other Stories, which won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker; in 2016 she was awarded the Windham Campbell Prize and the Hawthornden Prize. She lives in London.

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Clever Girl - Tessa Hadley


To Sam


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




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10


P.S. Insights, Interviews & More . . .*

About the author

About the book

Read on


Also by Tessa Hadley



About the Publisher


MY MOTHER AND I LIVED ALONE. My father was supposed to be dead, and I only found out years later that he’d left, walked out when I was eighteen months old. I should have guessed this – should have seen the signs, or the absence of them. Why hadn’t we kept any of his things to treasure? Why whenever he came up in conversation, which was hardly ever, did my mother’s face tighten, not in grief or regret but in disapproval – the same expression she had if she tasted some food or drink she didn’t like (she was fussy, we were both fussy, fussy together)? Why did none of our relatives or friends ever mention his name? (Which was Bert, unpoetically.) What had he died of, exactly? (‘Lungs,’ my mother said shortly. She had hated his smoking.)

But it didn’t really matter. We were pretty happy living à deux – at least I was.

This was in the 1950s and the early ’60s (I was born in 1956), so many things that seem quaint now were current and powerful then: shame, and secrecy, and the fear that other people would worm themselves into your weaknesses, and that their knowledge of how you had lapsed or failed would eat you from the inside. My mother used to wear white gloves to go to the shops in summer. She used to carry a basket on her arm, real willow, shaped like a segment of orange, with a tan leather flap and a fastener like a little brass barrel turning in a brass slot. Later on, when I was a teenager, I thought she was dowdy, in her boxy good coats and silk scarves and low-heeled court shoes. But looking at the photographs now, I see that it’s me who was a fright – I’m small, and I was pudgy in those days, with my eyes made up like black pits – and that she was elegant and even sexy, in a cautious, respectable kind of way.

She had to go out to work in an office, to support us. So I spent a lot of time with my nana, my mother’s mother, who lived just round the corner from our flat. (That’s another thing: didn’t I wonder why we never visited any grandparents on my father’s side?) Nana was miniature, with a tiny-featured face and black eyes, like a mouse or a shrew; on her cheeks there really was a kind of downy pale fur, if you caught her in a certain light, and when I was very young I liked to stroke it. She bought her clothes from the children’s department (cheaper), and went to the hairdresser’s every week to have her hair set in skimpy grey-brown rolls pinned to her scalp: not out of vanity, but as if it was her duty to submit to this punishing routine. There was a sticker on the underside of every piece of furniture in Nana’s house, saying who should have it in the event of her death: Edna (that was my mother), Uncle Frank, or Uncle Ray. This was when she was still in her early sixties. (‘That old junk! No thank you!’ Mum said, but only when Nana was out of earshot.) I had already decided what I wanted: a jewellery box that played music when the lid was opened.

Nana was also a widow (a real one). I can’t remember my grandpa. Her house was very bare and there wasn’t that much furniture in it to inherit. This was because she was poor, but also because she was continually in the process of clearing out, giving things away, as if she were trying to weigh less and less, as if life itself were a mess that she was gradually getting to the bottom of. In the summer, when it wasn’t too cold, I used to play upstairs in the bedrooms while Nana in her housecoat cleaned downstairs. (What was there to clean? She survived in that house as neatly as a mouse living on crumbs.) I played with the jewellery box, and with my dolls, and with a vanity set that Uncle Ray had given Nana one Christmas, pots made of soft thick plastic with blue screw tops. You were meant, I suppose, to transfer your assorted creams and unguents into these, to take away travelling with you: but Nana only used Nivea and never went anywhere. I can remember being flooded with happiness once, alone (apart from the dolls) in Nana’s bedroom. The floorboards were stained dark brown up to the edges of the rug. I was lying on the floor looking up at the underside of the bed – its springs and the flock mattress with its pompoms, turned each week. The dressing table had its back to the window, blocking the light. Silky mauve curtains were drawn part way across behind it, to keep out prying eyes or save the furniture from fading. The window was open three inches at the top for airing and a breeze was tickling the curtains; my chest swelled with the full awareness of the moment, as if I was breathing in a different medium, thick and heady. Dust motes swam in the air. I turned my hand in them and thought: I’m alive! In this world!

Was this before I went to school?

It must have been. I didn’t hate school but it put an end to that rich slow expansive time, when I was free.

Mum and I were close when I was a child. We deluded ourselves that we were alike and would always be the best of friends. We snuggled together with hot-water bottles under the eiderdown on the sofa to watch Compact on TV, or The Man from U.N.C.L.E. We were both strong-willed, and that was fine as long as we were pulling in tandem: both of us were fastidious and opinionated and ready to disapprove of other people’s tastes, though we kept these judgements diplomatically between us. (Later, our tastes diverged and we disapproved of each other.)

Nana said we should move in with her. She couldn’t see why we were wasting our money renting a separate place. I took no notice of this – I thought of Nana as harmless, lightweight, easy to brush away. My uncles teased her patiently, they found her comical. But I knew from my mother’s face that for her the idea of moving back into her old home was a living danger, the place was a trap that could close on her again at any time. If Mum smoked at Nana’s kitchen table (she’d hated my father’s smoking then took it up herself), Nana whisked the ashtray away the moment she’d finished, tipping the ash into the bin and rinsing the ashtray under the tap, wiping it first with the dishcloth and then with a tea towel. Without a husband Mum was vulnerably exposed. The only way for her to defend herself against Nana’s bleaching, purging world view was to defy it: to wear scent and lipstick every day (‘for the office’), not to bother to take up the carpet every time she cleaned. To treat me, for her birthday, at a Berni Inn. (Which was a waste, as Nana had predicted. Overawed and stubborn, I wouldn’t eat a thing.)

Mum came into my bedroom as usual one morning in her stockinged feet and petticoat, with the pile of sheets and blankets she had slept in neatly folded. We only had one bedroom, with a double bed in it and no space for any other furniture; I slept in there and Mum had the sofa. I liked to lie in bed listening to her getting ready in the next room, moving about quietly so as not to wake me. I’d close my eyes when she came in, pretending to stretch and yawn.

— Stella? I’ve had a telephone call, she said.

Telephone calls were a big event. The telephone belonged to the woman in the flat below ours, whose number we only gave out for emergencies. The call must have come very early – or very late the night before.

— Who from? I asked, suspicious.

Mum said that my Uncle Frank had called, because Auntie Andy needed somewhere to stay for a while. Andy had rung Frank, trying to get in touch with my mother.

— You’ll have to budge up, Mum said. — I’ll be in the bed with you tonight. We’ll give Andy the sofa.

She stood for too long, hanging on to the pile of bedding, looking down at me, seeing me and not seeing me. There was something in her face that I didn’t like, crumbled and damp. Usually the mask of her brightness was securely in place: spirited, capable. My mother was quite tough. She could be brisk about other people’s troubles. She couldn’t afford to waste much sympathy; she had herself (and me) to look out for. No one else was looking out for us.

I was eight or nine, at the time this happened.

I could hardly remember at first who Auntie Andy was: she was a relative of my father’s, married to his cousin, and she was the only one in that family who’d made any effort to keep in touch. We probably saw her once or twice a year. At Christmas she dropped off a selection box of chocolate bars for me. She may have been moved to this kindness because she had a son about my age, Charlie. (Of course then Mum had to buy a selection box for Charlie too.) Andy wasn’t really Mum’s type. She was too indefinite: small and plump with faded gingery hair scraped back from her face in hairgrips, her skin blotchy, no make-up. She used to wear a little beige beret tilted to one side of her head, inappropriately jaunty. She was shy and never had much to say, sitting with a plate of our Christmas cake balanced on her lap, fat knees spread in her tweedy skirt, her feet crossed at the ankles, where her nylons wrinkled.

Once she’d remarked approvingly, looking round, ‘You’ve got it very nice here, Edna.’

Mum was still looming above my bed, gripping the pile of blankets.

— There’s just one thing, she warned. — When Auntie Andy comes, you mustn’t mention Charlie.

So something had happened to Charlie.

Charlie had only come in with Andy once: inches smaller than me, ginger like her but bursting unlike her with sly and hostile energy, ready with contempt for girls and women. He’d ignored his mother when she tried to pass him her handkerchief, and wiped his nose on his sleeve instead; in one of his eyes there was a blot as if black ink had spilled across the iris, and his stare was unnervingly off target. His brown lace-up shoes, polished like conkers, had made me think of the boys kicking in the queue for school dinner. I refused to ask my mother what had happened to him. I didn’t want to have unpacked for me whatever unseemly thing had made her face pulpy. I liked the scandals we read about in magazines, but they were safely glazed over with falsehood and repetition; glimpses of raw adult complications appalled me in the same way as I was appalled by the sight of an egg splatted in the pan with its yolk broken and leaking. (I hated eggs.)

Mum probably wouldn’t have told me anyway. She was inflexible in keeping secrets.

Almost as an afterthought, she added: — And don’t mention Uncle Derek, either.

I hadn’t even known his name was Derek. I’d never met him.

Andy was there when I got back from Nana’s. I always went to Nana’s after school. I was allowed to walk home on my own after Nana had given me my tea: Spam sandwiches, lettuce and tomatoes with vinegar shaken over them out of a cut-glass bottle. Nana already knew all about Auntie Andy’s coming but she wouldn’t say anything to me directly: not saying things was her speciality. She had a horror of any kind of publicity or exposure touching the family, however remotely.

— I only hope Edna knows what she’s doing, she fretted.

I was dreading that I would arrive home in the middle of a big fuss. I couldn’t bear crisis: the huddles of women, their lowered voices and smouldering glances shutting the children out and yet looping them in – tantalising them – to the dark, sticky, mucky centre. Girls practised huddling in the school playground. Mum didn’t like fuss any more than I did: whatever it was that had happened to Andy (and Charlie and Uncle whatshisname) had been bad enough to shock her out of her usual poise.

I had vowed to myself that I would never be looped in.

But when I got there Andy was sitting quietly at the end of the sofa, in the same tweed skirt that she had worn on her last visit. — How are you, Stella? she said kindly. — How was school?

She did look odd in some way – what?

I began gabbling about how well I had done in my mental arithmetic test, and how in our books we had drawn around plastic stencils of the United Kingdom with little holes to put your pencil where the cities were, and how I had to bring in something for the nature table next week, now that it was spring. I knew my mother was frowning at me urgently because by talking about school I was indirectly bringing up the subject of Charlie (although I couldn’t imagine Charlie ever shining at mental arithmetic or contributing to the nature table). But I didn’t want there to be any silences, out of which raw truths might tumble.

Auntie Andy commented admiringly that I must be very good at my lessons.

Her face was rather white. She reminded me of a girl at school who had been slapped for extreme insolence (they usually only hit the boys): when this girl walked back to her desk she was in a sort of smiling daze, vivid with shock. What was odd about Auntie Andy, I realised, was that her shyness had been blasted out of her by whatever had happened, the way an explosion can leave people deaf afterwards. When she had sat in the same place on our sofa eating cake, a few months earlier, she had been stuck for anything to say, apologetic, glancing round at the walls of our flat for inspiration. Mum had been imperiously, chillingly polite. (I suppose she’d chosen this as the right register for relations with my father’s family.) Andy had blushed and stumbled over her words, and I had guessed that her feet were hurting her in her stilettos. The time Charlie came in with her, she had been suffused with maternal pride and surprise (‘Can I really have made this?’), touching his hair and his shoulders surreptitiously, making him wriggle away; but she had also suffered, seeing his nose run in front of us.

Now she sat almost serenely, as if nothing ordinary could touch her.

Well, of course it couldn’t.

— I wanted to come here, she said to my mother, with no hint of worry that she might be an imposition. — I remembered how nicely you’d done it up. When they asked me if I had anyone to go to, I expect they thought I’d go to my sister’s. But to be honest, Edna, I don’t want anything to do with the whole lot of them, just now.

That first afternoon she must have been experiencing severe trauma, as we’d call it these days. I don’t suppose she knew what she was doing or saying. But her shyness never did come back. It wasn’t that she became bold or greedy for attention or anything like that, far from it. Her shyness transformed into something like itself, but different: reserve, or dignity.

The only outward sign of extremity was the fact that they were drinking sherry. Or Mum was drinking it, and smoking with hasty, nervous fingers: Auntie Andy’s glass, on the coffee table in front of her, looked untouched.

— Go on, Mum said tenderly. — It’ll do you good.

I’d never heard her tender like that before, with any adult; even our mutual appreciation was mostly chaffing and teasing. Obediently, Andy picked up the glass to sip, but something happened to it between the table and her mouth, as if her hand simply wasn’t under her control: her arm jerked helplessly and the sherry spilled over the top of the glass, a big gout of it, on to her skirt and our carpet. She wasn’t just shaking – it was something more violent, like an avalanche or a volcanic eruption. Andy’s old self would have been mortified; but she only put the sherry back carefully on the table and folded her hands in her lap again, while Mum knelt beside her, blinking in the smoke from her cigarette, blotting the mark out of Andy’s skirt with a tea towel. I saw that if anything it was Mum who was shy now: not shy of Andy in herself, but of whatever had happened to her, as if it were added on like an annexe to her personality for ever, exacting a kind of homage of respect and service.

I supposed that as I soon as I was sent to bed the two women would talk, and I would hear the dramatic music of their murmured scandalising revelations and commiserations, penetrating the dividing wall. (I’d heard my mother talk like this with Auntie Jean, Frank’s wife, and had felt betrayed because usually we made fun of Jean. It was our joke that she knew the gossip before it even happened: ‘jungle telegraph’, Mum called it.) However, when Mum told me to get my pyjamas on, Auntie Andy announced that she would go to bed now too.

— The doctor’s given me some pills, she said. — So I should be all right. I didn’t get much sleep last night.

My mother didn’t try to explain about the sofa, and that this meant she too would have to go to bed, hours before her usual time: as a rule she never turned in before eleven or midnight. She made up the sofa for Andy with clean sheets, filled a hot-water bottle for her. Then Mum and I were shut in the bedroom alone together. It was strange to have her undressing in the room with me when I was still wide awake, tussling to take off her underwear under her nylon nightie, pulling out her brassiere through a sleeve, settling down beside me with her book and her glass of water. She couldn’t concentrate on what she was reading and her restlessness communicated itself. When she turned out the bedside light (I whined that I couldn’t sleep with the light on), I could feel the frustration of the long hours stretching out ahead of her in the dark, when she was so charged up with vitality and energy.

— So what happened to Charlie? I whispered.

— Oh Stella. Not now, for goodness’ sake.

Heaving the bedclothes over, she turned her back on me. For a while we both lay awake, listening for signs of whatever unimaginable reverie was unfolding in the next room: but there was nothing to hear. And in the morning when Mum got up, Auntie Andy was already dressed, sitting there on the sofa with her slapped face and vague smile, and all the sheets and blankets neatly folded.

On the way to school, Mum told me that Charlie was dead, flinging the word at me impatiently as if it was somehow my fault and I ought to have guessed by now: as indeed I had guessed, from the beginning. The actual word, spoken between us, worked its ravages nonetheless. I resented Charlie with a pure rage. Why couldn’t anyone else have been dead? He seemed a usurper in a realm that gave him a huge advantage of pity and terror: he surely didn’t belong there, with his ugly stamping feet. Only his squint (it had made its impression, that inky blot) had been a sign of difference, marking him apart.

— Dead, how? I insisted, and she looked down at me – bright and smart in her office outfit – with distaste, I’m sure.

— A nasty accident, she said.

I couldn’t ask, for shame: what accident? But the uncertainty squirmed in my imagination, taking on foul forms.

— You’re not to repeat a word about it to anyone, is that clear? Not one word, or I’ll take my hand to you.

She rarely smacked me, though she quite often threatened it; I was wounded that my mother could think I wanted to pass on our contaminating secret. Becoming the centre of one of those huddles of girls, darkly informed, didn’t appeal. I feared I wouldn’t carry it off, somehow the tables would be turned and the dirty story would stick to me, making me a pariah. I was too odd – too small and sexless, too good at English comprehension – for those girls to trust. My instinct in those days anyway was to smother any unpleasant truth, push it back into its hole. I was (rather abstractly) enthusiastic about dogs and horses, because the emotions these roused seemed to me clean, unproblematic: I had a dreamy image of myself running through long grass with a collie dog jumping up beside me, trying to lick my face (after long deliberation, I had elected collies as my favourites). This image was my idea of ‘nature’, and had in my private world a religious resonance.

Determinedly, all that day at school I held Charlie at bay, inventing games to play with my couple of oddball friends. We lived together in an old farmhouse on an island. A portion of the playground was the sea and we couldn’t walk on it, only row across it when we needed to get to the shops to buy provisions. Sometimes there were dreadful storms.

— Here boy!

I whistled and clicked my tongue commandingly; fed imaginary sugar lumps to imaginary horses with my hand held out flat.

What had happened to Charlie was worse than anything my fears could dredge up. It all came out in the trial. Needless to say I was never in the court, but my mother got as much time off from the office as she could to sit through it with Auntie Andy. (They were ‘very understanding’ at the office, even if that meant they didn’t pay her for the time she was out.) So she heard almost all of it; and over the years it filtered through to me. Also, Nana kept the newspaper cuttings and I found them when she died – though in those days the coverage wasn’t as lurid as it would be now, and not everything that came out in court got into the papers. It was a surprise to me that Nana had kept the cuttings. She had never let Mum talk about the case, and she certainly hadn’t manifested any prurient interest in the details. (What else to expect, anyway, from my father’s family?)

Apparently, for years Uncle Derek had been hitting Auntie Andy (Andrea, she was, in the newspaper reports). His own mother admitted in court that he had a violent temper, though she also said that Andy ought to have known how to ‘get round’ him. (Perhaps Uncle Derek’s father had been a wife-beater too?) The defence tried to make out that Andy had goaded her husband with her ‘passivity’, her ‘unresponsiveness’. The whole topic of men’s violence against their families was kept better hidden in those days. People had mixed feelings about it: it was disgusting, but it was also, confusedly, part of the suffering essence of maleness, like the smell of tobacco and the beard-growth. I think that sexuality itself was sometimes understood, by the women in my family, as a kind of violence that must be submitted to, buried deep in the privacy of domestic life. Presumably the implication of the case for the defence was that Auntie Andy had driven her husband to murder out of sexual frustration.

They made a great point of Derek’s sobriety (‘He never touched a drop,’ Auntie Andy loyally testified), and his good reputation at his place of work. He was a salesman in a car showroom, he ‘brought home very good money’. Who knows how Uncle Derek would have fared in court if he’d killed Auntie Andy? On the night in question, however, he didn’t. He arrived home from work at the usual time and his tea wasn’t ready. (‘Tea’, in this context, meaning meat and two veg, not Earl Grey and triangles of sandwich.) It wasn’t ready because Andy had been asked to go in to talk to Charlie’s teacher after school. (She hadn’t been planning to tell her husband this, but it came out as their row unravelled.) She had thought that perhaps Charlie was in trouble – he sometimes got into fights in the playground – but it turned out that the teacher was worried about his slowness in learning to read. (‘Because I don’t have any other children,’ Andy said in court, ‘I didn’t know that he was slow. I wish I’d known.’) Derek had had a bad day altogether. He’d been working on a deal to sell a fleet of cars to a driving school, and it had fallen through.

My mother said they made Andy show them on a plan how he chased her around the house, punching and kicking her from room to room. — That’s why I ran out in the street, she said, — without my coat or my bag. And I couldn’t go back inside, because I didn’t have my key. He’d never have let me in. But I didn’t want the neighbours watching while I hung about out there in the cold. So I thought I’d better go to my sister’s, who only lives round the corner.

She’d waited a couple of hours for him to cool down. She had gone to her sister’s before in the middle of one of these rows, and left Charlie with his father.

— When police officers saw you later that evening, the defence objected, — they didn’t observe any signs of violence on your person.

She said he never hit her where the marks would show.

— Could you speak up, please?

He’d said he didn’t

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Comentários da Crítica

  • Unsurprisingly, Smith is friends with another of Britain's contemporary literary luminaries, Tessa Hadley. "Clever Girl" paints a portrait of a woman named Stella throughout the years, an intricate depiction of the mundane and the extraordinary in everyday life.

    Scribd Editors

Avaliações de leitores

  • (5/5)
    Es fácil quedar atrapada en las primeras líneas y nunca te decepciona. Fluido y lleno de historias que pudieron o no vivir en nuestra propia imaginación. Un favorito a mi biblioteca.
  • (3/5)
    It was ok. Indeed, the beauty is in the mundane, every day... which is to be appreciated. It also means, however, it will be a toss up as to whether it's boring or engrossing. I kept expecting more, but perhaps that's what a reader might ponder-- his or her own expectations about what makes a good novel. On another note, these reviews can be totally random. This is NOT a biography of an American spy code-named Clever Girl. ????? Indeed, finish reading before writing a review. Other reviews for other books are totally off-- e.g, writing nonsense words to accompany a 1 star review. SCrib, is anyone monitoring /paying attention to reviews?
  • (4/5)
  • (2/5)
    I should really finish re-reading this for a book club before I write a full review...let's just say that this one is probably
  • (4/5)
  • (2/5)
    This is a biography of Elizabeth Bentley, born in New England to a conservative family and Vassar educated. She was in her 20's when she fell in love with a KGB agent and embraced communism. The book is well-researched and tells the detailed story of her spying (clever girl was her code name) and how her identity was uncovered during the McCarthy years. The first part of the book is an interesting look at what kind of person she was but towards the end gets bogged down in detailed descriptions of the HUAC hearings in Washington.