Book review: After the Funeral – atmospheric, beguiling and full of love and hope


By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

It was an excellent piece by Kate Kellaway in the Observer book review section that first led me to the writer Tessa Hadley.

The title of Hadley’s latest collection, After the Funeral, is an intriguing way to introduce the reader to 12 stories – all mainly centred around the lives of various women and young girls.

Her writing is succinct, flowing and compelling. We are gripped by the various characters and, without fail, we always want to hear more about their lives long after their particular story has ended.

The title story After the Funeral deals with the aftermath of a husband’s sudden death and its effect on the widow and her two small children. I particularly enjoyed how Hadley sprinkles little drops of dark humour into her writing. “Naturally they were grief-stricken also; but then again, they hadn’t known their father very well, and hadn’t enormously liked him.” We learn that Philip Lyons was a pilot until he died of a heart attack – “luckily not while he was in the air but on the ground, prosaically eating breakfast in a New York hotel room”.

The Bunty Club is one that all of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one can relate to. Three sisters have all moved back into their childhood home to spend time with their elderly widowed mother who had been taken into hospital. The tension of a forced encounter seeps through the story. “But they were middle-aged now, and self-consciously aware, as they performed their jokey girlishness, of heavy shelves of bosom under their nightdresses.” And later on a line which stands out – “The textures of the past rose around the sisters like an uneasy dream, alien and stale and intensely familiar.”

Hadley knows how to create an emotional punch. I was completely blindsided by an encounter in Dido’s Lament. A woman is pushed hard in her shoulder by a man whilst walking on Oxford Street in London. Enraged, she decides to follow him to try and secure an apology. The story takes a sharp, unexpected turn when she eventually confronts him.

Relationships and women seeking independence are the essence of these stories. We can’t help falling in love with the main characters and hoping that they find a resolution of sorts.

The short story form is secure in the hands of Tessa Hadley.