Book Review: LATE IN THE DAY, beautiful writing, but an unsatisfying plot

Hadley, Tessa - Late in the DayLate in the Day
Tessa Hadley

Christine and Lydia, best friends from school, met Alex when he was their French teacher. Lydia cajoled her way into his circle where they met his best friend, Zachary. Christine ended up marrying Alex and Lydia married Zachary. Their daughters, Isobel and Grace, became best friends. Grace was besotted with Alex’s son, Sandy. For decades, the families maintained a bastion of closeness. But, when Zachary suddenly dies of a heart attack, an essential component of their foursome irrevocably shifts the balance between the remaining members while revealing long dormant secrets and desires.

Although Tessa Hadley’s book Late in the Day contains some beautiful writing, I hated almost every minute of reading it. Shortly into the book, I realized it would be very difficult for Hadley to write an ending to satisfy me. Not only was the ending dissatisfying, the process of getting there was unpleasant and uncomfortable.

The book is tightly wrapped around the primary characters, although Christine’s mother, Barbara, and Alex’s mother, Margita make notable appearances, along with a small collection of secondary characters. I was distressed to see how very misogynistic Alex was, with little commentary. Even more so, the extent to which the women–Christine and Lydia and Isobel and Grace–conformed to the expectations of the men they were seeing, again with little criticism, floored me. The only two women who seemed independent were the widows Barbara and Margita who had by this time given up on me, which doesn’t seem like a viable alternative to relationships. It was a very hetero-normative book as well.

Perhaps if the marriages were in contrast to women’s friendships as some sort of theme, this might be interesting or tolerable. Instead, the friendships have as much lies, betrayals, and secrets as the romantic relationships, plus Lydia is so selfish and so unlikable with no payoff or seeming meaning behind it.

Instead of using quotation marks, or even the fashionable no quotation marks, Hadley decided to use dashes for direct quotes, but they would sometimes appear in the middle of a character’s dialogue. I found it very irritating and a technique that took me out of the narrative in a way I can’t imagine the author intended.

While I know Late in the Day has received many positive reviews, they totally baffle me. I truly disliked this book and when I was done regretted spending the time reading it.

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