Tessa Hadley: “The Stain” from The New Yorker 11/7/11

New Yorker art by Annette Marnat

When she was a child, this house from the outside, with its tall façade and many blind-looking windows, had seemed to stand for all the grandeur and beauty she could imagine. In reality, inside it was dingy and half-furnished and needed a coat of paint.

This story has some elements I really enjoyed, but overall I found it rather uninteresting and somewhat contrived. I’m having trouble even formulating anything to say about it without being snide. When I photocopied the story in the library, I omitted the title page so I didn’t realize it was by Tessa Hadley until after I’d read it, at which point I wondered, seeing as she’s had three stories in The New Yorker this year, if she’s got pictures of Deborah Treisman with goats or something. If they’re going to print three stories by someone, I’d think it would be someone else. See what I mean by snide? Maybe it’s just that I’ve been awash in soul-burning tear-stained gut-busting worldview-changing stories lately, and I don’t have patience with the merely adequate.

The story, which I actually liked better than the two earlier stories (“Clever Girl” and “Honor“), is about Marina, a bit of a misfit in her village, who goes to work for an aged man of means. He’s retired to the village from South Africa, and won’t talk about it. I’m not sure if Marina doesn’t make the connection, or doesn’t want to, but her surprise at the end is not believable to me. The “abduction” she undergoes at the end of the story feels similarly false. And the old man’s death is timed with the precision of a Harlequin romance.

I can appreciate a lot of the themes Hadley mentions in her Book Bench interview: how a community might “collaborate, for better and for worse, to establish a consensus, and to sustain it through disapproval and gossip;” and especially, “how that secret stain would contaminate what was around him.” I found more of both in the old man’s family than in the actual village. Marina played the role of the outsider upsetting the status quo of the family.

I’m going to have to accept that I don’t care for this particular author. I’m sure it’s my loss.

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One response to “Tessa Hadley: “The Stain” from The New Yorker 11/7/11

  1. Pingback: Tessa Hadley: “An Abduction” from The New Yorker, 7/9/12 « A Just Recompense

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