Bad Dreams And Other Stories by Tessa Hadley
9781910702888 Jonathan Cape
In these short stories it's the ordinary things that turn out to be most extraordinary: the history of a length of fabric, say, and a forgotten jacket. Two sisters quarrel over an inheritance and a new baby; a child awake in the night explores the familiar rooms of her home, strange in the dark; a housekeeper caring for a helpless old man uncovers secrets from his past. The first steps into a turning point and a new life are made so easily and carelessly: the stories focus in on crucial moments of transition, often imperceptible to the protagonists.
A girl accepts a lift in a car with some older boys, or a young woman reads the diaries she comes across when she's housesitting. Small acts have large consequences, and some of them reverberate across decades; things fantasised in private can reach out to affect other people, for better and worse. An older woman recovering from serious illness speaks to a lonely young man on a train; an old friend brings bad news to a dinner party; a schoolteacher in the throes of a painful affair in 1914 has mixed feelings about her pupils' suffragette-craze.
The real things that happen to people, the accidents that befall them, are every bit as mysterious as their longings and their dreams. Bad Dreams shows yet again that Tessa Hadley is a master of her art, one of the very finest writers at work in Britain today.