‘Cecilia Awakened’ by Tessa Hadley

Cecilia Awakened by Tessa Hadley, 2018

The magic trick:

Articulating a very particular – but universal – feeling of sudden disconnect

So many of Tessa Hadley’s stories draw on those coming-of-age moments – those moments of epiphany and awakening for her young protagonists. I say that only as an observation – not a criticism. It’s kind of her topic. When she’s done she will leave behind a brilliant body of work dealing with those crucial moments of transition. “Cecilia, Awakened” is another worthy entry.

This one feels a bit like the beginning of the novel. I guess we shall see on that front. But whether it’s a novel excerpt or a pure short story, it conveys a really interesting idea. The story presents the awakening moment as one in which the girl suddenly finds that the weird little familial social cocoon she has formed with her parents isn’t what she thought.

It’s not an externally dramatic realization. Nothing particular happens to expose this new perspective. There is no sensational confrontation or stunning reveal. Cecilia simply sees that they don’t really fit in within society the way she thought. Or maybe it’s that the status and expertise that each maintains within the family structure suddenly seem absurd when compared to the larger community.

It’s the rare idea that is at once universally familiar but also rarely articulated.

And that’s quite a trick on Hadley’s part.

The selection:

When they had been at home in England, planning their trip, everything in Italy had seemed to belong to them, as if it were their refuge. Now that they had arrived, she understood that abroad was not really safe, in the way a museum was safe. Yet they’d been abroad so often: they saved every year for their trips to Italy and France and Greece, and Cecilia had never been afraid before.


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