Sunday, February 3, 2008

Becoming unmoored (Books - The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley)

This post and this one constitute my full review of The Master Bedroom.

The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley is full of people who have become unmoored, one because of a freak accident she was involved in on the highway, one by dementia, one by impending death, one by love. They all are experiencing a kind of loss. Hadley puts the inside of these experiences on the page with acuity, whether they are happening to a middle aged woman or a teenage boy.

The French windows were pushed open onto the garden and couples were moving about out there in the close gray evening; the chopped-off grass lying about on the lawn smelled heavily sweet, and colored lanterns, still pale in the late daylight, hung in the trees. Children were taking turns to roll down a sharp slope at the far end of the garden, into the fence. David had an instinct that if he and Suzie once went outside they'd be lost, they'd never be able to join in the party; after strolling round and round pretending to smell the roses they'd simply have to make a humiliating escape through some back gate or over a wall. They looked around them instead with exaggerated interest and talked about the house; filled up with life like this it didn't look so much eccentric as privileged.

I love that paragraph because it captures that feeling one can have of being sealed off from everyone and everything going on around one. A teenage boy has a similar experience, but of all of life:

- Before I knew you, it was like looking at real life - people actually feeling things and being things - through a closed window.

- The people on the other side of the window, of course, were looking back enviously at you.

- I was afraid of never getting to be actually real. Having Dad and Suzie's life: driving round picking the kids up from things or dropping them off, booking a two-week holiday each year, machines at home to do everything that nobody uses. It's like a picture of life. Only in here is real, because it doesn't pretend to be. That's a paradox...

- You know how to do things, he said. Everything you touch, you know how to do it. As if there's a hidden pattern.

- If only you knew.

The Master Bedroom probes big experiences like love and others like listening to music or the routines of daily life, all from a perspective of loss and does so meaningfully and quite beautifully. A satisfying read but not a comfortable one - one that made me feel my own life differently.

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