‘After The Funeral’ by Tessa Hadley

After The Funeral by Tessa Hadley, 2022

The magic trick:

Tracking the critical changes in characters over a long period of time

A story, in most cases, compresses time so that we can see the crucial moments of truth when our characters at hand learn about life. That’s probably easiest to see when the story focuses on the micro – one afternoon in the character’s life, for instance. The title of “After The Funeral” suggests a story like this. The moment that changed everything at the church reception after the funeral. Or something like that.

But that’s not what this story does. The moments of truth are not isolated to one church reception or one evening. They extend over years. So, yes, the story does compress time, of course. But it’s a lengthier, more complicated, more subtle presentation of how the characters’ lives have changed.

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

The selection:

“We’ve missed you, too,” Charlotte said tenderly. “We missed our conversations.”

She had a qualm lest, with her away at university, the doctor might be starved of rational companionship, left with only her mother and her sister to talk to. It would be worth any sacrifice, she thought, to keep him sweet—but, for the moment, that difficulty still lay in an unknown future. The succeeding weeks were feverish with planning and possibility. On one joyous occasion, the doctor took them all into London to see a show; they went for a hamburger afterward and then walked in the crowds along the South Bank, past the illuminated G.L.C. building, whose reflection glittered in the black river water, where the dark forms of boats came and went mysteriously. Marlene was lovely that evening, after a few brandy-and-Babychams, in her pearl earrings and the precious Persian lamb. She was hanging on one of the doctor’s arms, Charlotte on the other, Lulu dawdling alongside them, drinking everything in: they were like a real family, Charlotte thought. When they got back to the flat in Purley, eventually, and the girls had retired to bed—surely, they couldn’t stay too much longer in these awful bunks, absurd at their age—the doctor really did broach the idea of marriage.

Yet unaccountably, on the brink of the future, Marlene hesitated.


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