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Married Love is Tessa Hadley's second collection, containing twelve short stories looking at (mostly) modern relationships and family dynamics - many are about parents and their grown up children and in-laws, others are about couples. Flicking through the book to choose some of the best and/or most interesting stories to mention, I have found a difficulty. Almost all of these incisive, witty stories reveal an interesting group of characters I would like to know more about after the end, sometimes from several different viewpoints, and it is hard to pick out just a few.
In the title story, a talented student shocks her family by announcing a plan to become her university tutor's third wife. Later, Lottie seems to be rebelling against her fairly relaxed, liberal parents in conforming to very old fashioned stereotypes of marriage and motherhood.
In A Mouthful of Cut Glass, a couple take each other home to meet the parents, and come up against some of the differences between them they had hardly noticed before, particularly class. In In the Country the outsiders at a family gathering, both partners of grown up children in the family, surreptitiously bond with each other.
The majority of these stories have contemporary settings - The Trojan Prince features a young man in the early 1920s. A Mouthful of Cut Glass takes place in 1972, and in fact I initially overlooked the historical setting. Looking at it, there are various period references but the preoccupations of Hadley's characters don't change much over the years.
I was moved and a little shocked by the children of Because the Night spying on their parents' parties and the unsuitable behaviour of some of the adults.
I especially liked the very 21st century situation of Journey Home, in which Alec worries about his sister who changes her Facebook status to Single and won't answer her phone while he is abroad.
The Godchildren is a story of a reluctant reunion describes brilliantly the guilt of people after the death of someone who had been generous and caring towards them all in their childhood, and about not having kept in touch enough.
She's The One centres on themes of mourning and friendship, as Ally struggles to come to terms with her brother's suicide.
These stories are not directly linked in any way. All of them have been published before separately, six of them in the American magazine the New Yorker, the others in various British periodicals, and they stand alone as strong, memorable stories. However, they share several common themes and complement and enhance each other well as a collection.
This review first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk