Book Of The Month December, 2008
The Master BedroomTessa Hadley
Kate Flynn has always been a clever girl, brought up to believe in herself as something special. Now Kate¹s forty-three and has given up her university career in London to come home and look after her mother in Firenze, their big house by a lake in Cardiff. When Kate meets David Roberts, a friend from the old days, she begins to obsess about him: she knows it’s because she’s bored and hasn’t got anything else to do, but she can’t stop. David is married, rational, dependable: the last type to want an affair. David¹s marriage isn’t as solid as it looks, though. His wife Suzie has moved out of their bedroom, she avoids talking to David or spending time at home with him and their children, she has made new friends who smoke dope and believe in fortune telling. David takes refuge in Firenze, where he can talk to Kate about music. David¹s seventeen-year-old son Jamie is also drawn to the old house full of books and history. He is more like Kate than his father is, bookish and clever: he wants to find out all about life from her. He turns up one night at Firenze, drunk and desperate. Tessa Hadley’s intricate, graceful novel explores the tangled web of connections between parents and children, lovers and friends; the past casts its long shadows in the present; men and women who were once confident they knew themselves, learn to attend to the changes unfolding inside them.
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Tessa Hadley about her book The Master Bedroom:
It wouldn’t be true to say that this novel began with the house – Firenze, a big old red brick villa beside a lake in Cardiff, with a balcony and a turret. Actually it began somewhere else, in a quarrel between a husband and wife, about reason and magic. But it is true that once I had found the house in my imagination I knew how to write the book. My heroine, Kate Flynn, gives up her job in London and comes home to Firenze to look after her mother, who is in her eighties and growing forgetful. She doesn’t come home because she’s selfless or even especially kind: in fact she’s quite difficult, sharp-tongued and intolerant and clever. I really wanted to write a woman like this, badly behaved, not eager to please. Kate’s 43, she’s recently broken off a relationship with a nice man (too nice), and she has no children. I think when she comes home she’s testing life: she wants to see what it will throw at her, if she leaves behind the scaffolding of her career, which has filled up her days and made her safely busy. What will she learn about herself, in the long empty hours and days alone with her mother in the old house? What will happen to her? Sometimes she’s afraid that nothing will happen.
There’s a park with a boating lake near my home in Cardiff; around the lake are huge old houses from the turn of the last century, much grander than anywhere I’ve ever lived. In a first draft of the novel Firenze was quite an ordinary terraced house, until one day in the park I realised that Kate and her mother Billie ought to own somewhere extravagant like one of these. It’s one of the excitements of writing novels and stories, finding keys to let you into places more extraordinary than anywhere you’ve actually visited in the flesh. A couple of the houses on the lake really do have turrets (I enjoyed inventing what was locked away in mine). Kate’s grandfather, I decided, who built Firenze, was a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania; he made his money from haberdashery shops. The house is much too big for Kate and Billie bythemselves. Once, the family had maids, there’s still a library full of books and a grand piano; now the roof leaks, there are rooms no one goes into, heaped up with leftovers from the family past. Billie imagines she still lives in the world the house was built for, privileged, high-minded, dedicated to art and music. Kate worries about what kind of sex life she’s going to have in her new home. At a concert she bumps into David, an old childhood friend, a doctor: married of course. She realises this is what bourgeois women filled their empty hours with in the old days: dreaming about love. But David doesn’t notice that she’s fallen for him. He is the man the whole novel started with, the one who believes in reason and isn’t interested in magic. He only wants to be Kate’s friend and talk to her about books.
First published in newbooks magazine, September/October 2008 issue. For a FREE introductory copy of the magazine or to subscribe go to newbooksmag.com.