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New Yorker Fiction Review #157: "Dido's Lament" by Tessa Hadley

Story from the August 8th & 15th issue of The New Yorker...

Two reviews in one day? What?? Believe it. And with the double issue, I've fast-forwarded three weeks in less than 12 hours. And am only 3.5 months behind now. But I digress...

I am not a big Tessa Hadley fan. That doesn't mean I can't recognize game when I see it. All the same, I am not a fan. Her (mostly female) main characters tend to be dainty, self-possessed, a bit haughty, and even somewhat timid; people whom life or some lover has passed by while they were absorbed in their own pain, wounded pride, or self-centered myopia...not unlike a lot of people who call or have once called themselves artists at one time or another and/or those who have yet to grow up. So, for anyone who has spent any amount of their life feeling that way (as I have, I admit), Hadley's characters will be somewhat relatable but, all the same, a bit to delicate for me.

When the main action of the story (as in "Dido's Lament") is the main character slipping and falling as she leaves -- unnoticed, mind you, and without any real romantic confrontation -- the house of a former lover, you can perhaps see what kind of snooze-fest we are dealing with. A well-written snooze-fest. But a snooze-fest all the same. I mean, it has the word "lament" in the title. Just kill me.

If Tessa Hadley's fiction were itself a person, it would be a vaguely-sniffly middle-aged woman curled up on a sofa in a drafty old English farmhouse on a rainy day, covered by an Afghan blanket, with a scarf around her neck, sipping chamomile tea and reading a dusty old copy of Anna Karenina for the fifth time, pausing now and then to put the book down and remember her long-lost love, Harold, or Bernard, or Tom, whom she loved ardently in her 20s but after whom she never found it within herself to love again.


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