BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, January 2019
The 30-year bond between two couples is irrevocably broken when one of the friends abruptly dies in Tessa Hadley’s Late in the Day. This well-drawn and absorbing character study bears all the hallmarks of Hadley’s best work: It’s perceptive, intelligent and written with astonishing emotional depth.
Serious but artistic Christine and dreamy, sensuous Lydia have been friends since school. During college, Lydia nursed an unrequited crush on their married French teacher, Alexandr, and Christine began a romance with his friend Zachary. Over the years, the relationships slowly shifted, and the women reallocated their affections without any apparent bitterness or jealousies. Lydia and Zachary eventually married and had a daughter; shortly after, Alex and Christine did the same. The two couples remained active in each other’s lives, socializing, traveling together and eventually working together when Christine began to show her art in Zachary’s gallery. Even their daughters became good friends.
But Zachary’s sudden death from a massive heart attack disturbs the equilibrium. At first, the remaining three are committed to providing comfort and solace for each other. Lydia moves in with Alex and Christine, and Alex goes to Glasgow to bring Lydia and Zachary’s daughter home from college. But without Zachary to stabilize the quartet, old grievances rise up and unhealed wounds are opened. For Christine, Zachary’s death means that she can no longer find a reason to make art. She locks the door to her studio and grows quietly resentful of her husband and best friend. On the other hand, Lydia finds new strength, deciding to be more involved in the business of the gallery and her departed husband’s family trust.
As in Hadley’s earlier novels (The Past and Clever Girl), sexual desire proves an overwhelming force that shapes decisions and actions, but Late in the Day is also about the remaking of an artist and the emergence of self, even in middle age. A master of interpersonal dynamics, Hadley captures the complexity of loss, grief and friendship with a clarity of vision that brings the natural and material worlds into sharp focus.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Tessa Hadley for Late in the Day.