‘Dido’s Lament’ by Tessa Hadley

Hadley, Tessa 2016

Dido’s Lament by Tessa Hadley, 2016

The magic trick:

Shifting point of view for one three-paragraph scene near the end of the story

I love the end of this story; hate the ending.

The story reunites two former lovers long after their relationship has ended. It’s told in the third person but from Lynette’s point of view. The brilliance of the end lies in the sudden switch to Toby’s perspective. It shades our feelings about their entire encounter very differently. We have a window into Toby’s life since their breakup – a true sense of his motivations, previously hidden behind appearances and Lynette’s limited insight.

This trip into Toby’s mind does not last long – a mere three paragraphs. Then we’re back to Lynette’s point of view. And that’s fine. That switch-back is not the aforementioned ending that I hate. It’s the final two sentences: “It really was better to be free. Or, if it wasn’t better, it was necessary.”

I can’t imagine why she thought it was a good idea to tag such a heavy-handed, trite message at the end of the story. Things were moving along so well, so subtly. This story trusts the reader to pick up on nuance, so it was jarring – and annoying – to suddenly get such a didactic close.

Oh well. A petty complaint of an otherwise very enjoyable read. That switch to Toby’s perspective near the end was a game-changer. And that’s quite a trick on Hadley’s part.

The selection:

Toby stood for a moment with his back to the closed door, not thinking or processing anything, then returned to the kitchen. He had work to do this evening; he ought to make a sandwich or an omelette and get on with it. He checked his phone and then he noticed Lynette’s number written on the chalkboard. After a moment’s hesitation, he erased the number with a wet cloth, wiped the whole board clean, then rewrote “pasta, Calpol, kitchen towel, black olives.” He washed out the cloth and ran tap water in the sink, rinsing away the dried mud he’d brushed off her coat, sending it spinning down the plughole.

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