Accidents in the Home

Accidents in the Home

by Tessa Hadley

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A powerful literary debut chronicling a year in the life of one thoroughly modern family

Clare Verey, a twenty-nine-year-old mother of three, bakes her own bread and grinds her own spices. She has a comfortable home in the suburbs and a devoted husband. Why is it, then, that when her best friend's lover appears in her life he has the power to invert her world? Why is the desire for more never satisfied?

So begins Accidents in the Home, a novel that exposes the emotional underbelly of a modern-day family. Clare's narrative is deftly intertwined with the stories of her extended family: her mother, Marian, the clever daughter of a Dostoevsky scholar whose husband leaves her for a beautiful young art student; Clare's half brother, Toby, a dreamy boy who prefers to view life through the lens of a camera; her troubled younger half sister, Tamsin, who develops an apparatus of taboos and rituals to restore order to her chaotic past.

In the world Tessa Hadley has created, family is no longer a steady foundation but a complex web of marriages, divorces, half siblings, and stepchildren that expands with every new connection and betrayal. Accidents in the Home offers a startling, intimate portrait of family life in our time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312421021
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 05/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 284,162
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

TESSA HADLEY teaches literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University. She is the author of Sunstroke and Other Stories, Everything Will Be All Right, and Accidents in the Home. Sunstroke and Other Stories was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007, and Accidents in the Home was long-listed for The Guardian's First Book Award. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker. She lives in Cardiff, Wales.

Read an Excerpt

Lost and Found

The weekend that Helly brought her new boyfriend down to meet Clare, Clare's younger brother Toby was also staying with them, following them round with his video camera, making a documentary about the family for his college course.

Clare gave the camera one quick exasperated glance when the doorbell rang and the guests arrived. The food should have been ready but she was still chopping hurriedly amidst a debris of vegetable leavings; her fingers were stuck with parsley bits.

—Oh Toby, stop it!

Her deep glance at the camera — she looks at the lens and not at Toby, as if it was his eyes — is caught forever on the tape. She is wishing she had had time to change into the nicer clothes she had planned. Her hair is in a short, thick black plait on her shoulder, fastened with a rubber band. She looks tired. When she is tired (she believes) all those things which, at her best, make her look like an intellectual just make her look like a librarian: small eyes, neat straight brows, thin lips, a square high forehead. She has good skin but it is pink and hot because she is flustered. Her glance is naked and hostile - her last moment of free expression before she has to put on a smiling face.

She might be hostile to Toby; she is sometimes bossy and arbitrary with him.

Or perhaps to Helly, who comes and finds her out in her humiliation, dragged down by the children, without make-up, with wet red hands.

When Helly introduced her new boyfriend to Clare she said:

—You two should know each other. David comes from round here too. We must have all been at teenage parties together. He knows people weknew.

But the man was a stranger, an alien in Clare's house, with sunglasses hiding his eyes and an exaggerated presence she flinched from, curvy big cheekbones and chin with blue-black stubble, a thick beautiful leather coat, loudly and confidently friendly in a way that suggested immediately to Clare that he didn't want to be here in the provinces visiting his girlfriend's friend who was nobody. When they all kissed, the Londoners smelled expensively of bathrooms full of bottles of scents and lotions, and Clare was aware of her limp T-shirt which had soaked up the smells of the onion soup she was making for their lunch. The onion soup, with Parmesan toasts baked in the oven, would be delicious. (It was.) And Helly couldn't cook. But Clare feared that everything brilliant and savoury about her might appear to have drained into that onion soup, leaving her wan and dull and domesticated.

Helly was her best friend.

Recently, Helly had been paid thirty thousand pounds (twice as much as Bram, Clare's partner, earned in a year) to make a series of television advertisements for ice cream; as well as on television, they were used in the cinema and on hoardings. Everywhere Clare went she was surprised out of her reverie by Helly's golden face or the misty curves of Helly's body, intently and extravagantly inviting her into a larger-than-life golden vanilla space concealed inside the prose of everyday. These images got in the way for a while whenever she was with the real Helly: the real Helly would even seem for the first few minutes slightly contracted, smaller and more precise than she should be, and muffled in surprising clothes.

Helly was embarrassed about the advert. She was a serious actress. She did get work, in fringe and in soaps, but not enough. She was still waiting for her break. And no one, no one, could have turned down thirty thousand pounds. The advertisements paid for the serious work: that was the theory. But her friends couldn't help feeling that something momentous had happened, that she had stepped into a golden current of money and frivolity and glamour that would carry her off. Anyway, she wasn't strikingly talented as an actress. Although none of them quite acknowledged it, this was more exciting, really, than if Helly had got a good part in a play. They watched to see what would happen next.

Clare could remember that when she and Helly were fifteen, one of their shared night-time fantasies had been to imagine their nakedness projected lingeringly onto a cinema screen in front of an audience. So she couldn't be sure just how genuine Helly's contemptuous indifference was to those golden simulacra plastered everywhere. Or how genuine her own contemptuous indifference was, either.

The two visitors filled up the little terraced house with noise and cigarette smoke and with their things. They had brought in from the car a camera and bags of presents and bottles of wine and flowers and a portable mini-disk player and a heap of leather luggage, even though they were only staying the one night; also a laptop on which David had already tried to access his e-mail. (He worked as a lighting technician, designing systems for stage shows and clubs: this seemed to necessitate frequent contacts with his associates and long sessions on the mobile.) They talked more loudly and constantly and laughed more than Clare was used to.

Clare was taken aback at how profoundly she coveted Helly's beautiful clothes. She liked to think she was fairly indifferent to material possessions. Under Bram's influence she had given away lots of her CDs, deciding she had outgrown them. They had a house full of books but no television, and Clare made her own bread and ground her own spices and salted lemons to put in salads and chicken dishes. She bought most of what she wore in charity shops: not grudgingly but pointedly, because it was more original to put together your own bits and pieces. But when she saw Helly's long lilac-coloured dress and her green velvet jacket sewn with mirrors and her toenails painted green, she was reminded that there was something else you could do with your clothes, something better than just original, something that amounted to power and joy. You needed money, to make the look of you so mysteriously arouse longing and satisfaction at once: although you had to have a gift, too, to choose the right things so inventively and surely.

Helly was grievously good to look at: tall and spare, all flat planes, wide shoulders, big hands and feet, with big cheekbones and a long mobile mouth. Her eyes were pale green and her skin was really quite pale, not golden like in the adverts. Her spiky hair was blonde out of a bottle, with the roots left deliberately dark. The children came and watched Helly and David as if they were a show. Lily reached out a finger and stroked the velvet of Helly's sleeve; Rose put on her Superman cape especially for David, who didn't notice. He never knew what he was supposed to say to people's children, he confessed. Helly was the one who made all the efforts. She'd brought them things, and she talked to them in a chaffing ironic voice that Clare knew (she knew Helly very well) meant she was slightly afraid of them, not sure what they were thinking or how to please them. Coco, the oldest and the boy, was deeply suspicious of both visitors. He winced at Helly's silver lip-ring and ignored her as if it was kinder not to draw attention to how she shamed herself by wearing it; but he was drawn, almost against his better judgement, to the laptop. Even Toby — infuriatingly because he was twenty-three and should have been backing Clare up as a fellow adult — sat dumbly smiling and blushing in spite of all Helly's efforts to bring him out (she would be much more confident of how to please him, not because she had known him since he was a boy, but because he was a man now, and couldn't take his eyes off the lip-ring).

Reading Group Guide

The debut novel of a formidable fictional talent.

An improbable coincidence brings Clare back into contact with someone she once had sex with as a teenager; to complicate matters, he is now going out with her best friend, Helly. The encounter could have just been embarrassing, but it shakes up everything in Clare's life. Clare and Helly learned to smoke and shoplift together, and even read an old copy of The Female Eunuch together, squeezed side by side on Helly's bed. Now Clare is married with three small children, bakes her own bread and buys her clothes from the charity shop. Helly is a model and has her image up on billboards ten feet high. And each of them seems to want what the other has.

1. Clare is a young mother with a devoted husband and a comfortable home in the suburbs. Helly is single and leads a glamorous, metropolitan lifestyle. Both want what the other has. Do you think their desire for more will ever be satisfied?

2. Family in Tessa Hadley's novel is no longer a steady foundation but a complex web of divorces, half siblings and step children that expands connection and betrayal. How do you feel about this intimate portrait of contemporary family life? How does it compare to pre 1960 domestic novels? And your own experiences?

3. Each of the chapters are almost a short story in themselves. Each character is in full focus for only a matter of pages before receding into the background again. How do you feel about how the novel has been constructed? How does Hadley enhance our awareness of the context and make the novel work as a whole?

4. There is only one conventionally disastrous 'accident' in the book; why do you think the author chosethe title she did? Discuss the power of chance and collision throughout the novel.

5. The novel has a domestic setting -- do you think Tessa Hadley has succeeded in making 'serious literature' out of it?

6. Clare's father leaves a trail of marital dissatisfaction, divorce and children. How do you feel about the way men are portrayed in the novel?

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Accidents In The Home 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
BinnieBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book didn't really ever go anywhere, or when it did we weren't there. It takes you up to the point where something is going to happen, jumps to another place or time, and comes back to find the "something" happened without you. I was very disappointed in it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GirlieMac More than 1 year ago
Ostensibly, this is a book about the modern family, with step and half parents and siblings. This is NOT how modern families behave. The cadence of the book is annoying: very clippity cloppity. The design of the book is confusing: supposedly centered on Clare, who has decided to cheat on her partner and father of the children with her best friend's boyfriend. Every other chapter travels back in time to some random pathetic woman who is a step-something to someone. On top of all that, this book is vulgar: descriptions of a son watching his loser mother beaten/raped by her lesbian partner, one step-mother watching in detail two dogs humping and describing the "long tender crease of her (Clare's 4 year old daughter's) vagina". A very bad book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
twilightfan30 More than 1 year ago
I read the entire book expecting it to get better along the way. The book was well written, but such a downer that I felt depressed once I finished reading. I could relate to some of the emotions of the characters, but I thought the storyline was unbelieveable and would never happen.