Everything Will Be All Right by Tessa Hadley - Read Online
Everything Will Be All Right
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The profoundly different choices of a mother and her daughter infuse this rich, expansive novel with both intimate detail and wide resonance

When Joyce Stevenson is thirteen, her family moves to the south of England to live with their aunt Vera. Joyce's mother, Lil, is a widow; Vera has a husband who keeps his suits in the wardrobe but spends evenings at another house nearby. While the two sisters couldn't be more different-Vera, a teacher, has unquestioning belief in the powers of education and reason; Lil puts her faith in séances-they work together to form a tight-knit family.

Joyce sees that there is something missing in their lives: men. She doesn't want to end up like her aunt Vera, rejected by her husband. Joyce discovers art at school: she falls in love with the Impressionists and, eventually, with one of her teachers. In spite of the temptations of the sixties, she is determined to make her marriage and motherhood a success. When Joyce's daughter, Zoe, grows up and has a baby of her own, however, she proves to be impatient with domestic life and chooses a dramatically different path.

Spanning five decades of extraordinary changes in women's lives, Everything Will Be All Right explores the complicated relationships of a family. The young ones of each generation are sure that they can correct the mistakes of their parents; the truth, of course, is more opaque. Intricate and insightful, Everything Will Be All Right firmly establishes Tessa Hadley among the great contemporary observers of the human mind and heart.

Published: Macmillan Publishers on
ISBN: 9781466829558
List price: $7.99
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Everything Will Be All Right - Tessa Hadley

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After the end of the war, when she turned eleven, Joyce Stevenson won a scholarship to Gateshead Grammar; she was one of the top forty children in her year. Two years later, when they moved south to live with her Aunt Vera, her Uncle Dick arranged to have her scholarship transferred to Amery-James High School for Girls, which was in an elegant eighteenth-century house in the city. New classrooms and laboratories and a gym had been added to the old building. The girls and the life there were subtly, complicatedly different from the children and the life Joyce and her sister Ann had known before; this had to do, they quickly understood, with a whole deep mystery of difference between the South and the North, in which their family was peculiarly entangled.

The Amery-James girls had a kind of sheen to them; their hair seemed glossier and their skin had a fresher bloom, their movements were slower and more measured. Joyce and Ann missed the boys and the men teachers. You had to watch your tongue, to hold back on some of the quick smart joking things you might have said in the North, because here what counted for glamour and importance was rather a kind of restraint and a collective know-how, knowing when it was the right season for French-skipping and cat’s cradle, knowing when these things were suddenly childish, knowing how to wear your purse belt so that it didn’t bunch up your skirt around the waist, knowing when to speak and when not to, and how to speak. There were a few girls there who had the city accent, comical and yokel-ish. You did not want, not even by default, to be counted among them. So Joyce and Ann determinedly set about losing the accents they had grown up with, never actually commenting to each other or to anyone on what they were doing, losing them until no trace was left and they no longer sounded like their mother or their aunt and uncle or their left-behind grandparents in the North.

The big old gray house they rented from the Port Authority was eight or so miles outside the city. At first their Uncle Dick drove them every morning in his car into Farmouth, the residential area behind the Docks where he worked, and they caught a bus from there into town. Then their Aunt Vera got a job teaching history at Amery-James. The girls had known, vaguely, that she had been a teacher before she married and had children, but had not imagined this was something you would ever pick up again later. It seemed incongruous (most of the teachers at the school were Miss, not Mrs.) and potentially an embarrassing pitfall, some mistake Aunt Vera had made in reading the signals of what was acceptable and appropriate.

Now Aunt Vera drove them in to school every morning, in the old Austin Seven that Uncle Dick bought her, which usually had to be started with a starting handle (Lil, their mother, sometimes came out and did it for Vera so she wouldn’t get oil on her teaching clothes). They asked to be let out some little distance from the school so they could walk the rest of the way without her. At least because their surnames were different, most of the girls never even connected Mrs. Trower to the Stevensons, and Aunt Vera never spoke to them any differently than to any of the others or gave any sign of their relationship inside school time. In fact, Joyce and Ann found that they could make for themselves a fairly effective separation between the Mrs. Trower who taught them history and Aunt Vera at home, closing off their knowledge of the one when they were dealing with the other. It was a relief that she turned out to be one of those teachers who elicited fear and respect rather than contempt. She was passionate about her subject, but that was tolerated as a kind of occupational hazard, with the same ambivalent tolerance that was extended to the brainy ones among the pupils. What was more important was that she was exacting and strict and could be scathingly sarcastic: Joyce more than once, and not without a certain private familial triumph then, saw her aunt reduce a girl to tears.

In the end-of-year revue they made fun of how, although she knew all the clauses of the Treaty of Vienna, the Trower-pot never remembered where she’d put down her chalk. Some girl would be chosen to impersonate her who could look tall and imposing and oblivious as she did, and whose hair could be arranged to imitate how hers was always escaping in thick untidy strands from where it was pinned up behind. Joyce would assiduously shut out a picture of Aunt Vera in her dressing gown in the mornings, her worn-out gray-pink corset and brassiere strewn on the bed behind her in a tangle of bedclothes, wailing to Lil at her bedroom door through a mouthful of hairpins that her stocking had a