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Everything Will Be All Right



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About The Author

Tessa HadleyTessa Hadley

TESSA HADLEY teaches literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University College. Her first novel, Accidents in the Home, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, was longlisted for The Guardian's First Book Award. She lives in Cardiff, Wales.

photo: Rob Clifford

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Reading Group Gold

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think male and female readers will respond differently to Everything Will Be All Right?

Why? Is there such a thing as a women’s novel? A man’s novel? Explain.

2. What is the significance of time and place in the story? In what ways do history and culture shape

each of the character’s personalities? How has history and culture shaped your own life differently

from, say, your parents and, if applicable, your children?

3. When comparing her mother to her aunt, the young Joyce believes “that although Aunt Vera could

be hateful, with her loud superior voice and her bruising definitiveness, Joyce thought that in such

a contest it would be safer to be bruising than bruised” (pg 22). What does this statement reveal

about her character? Are there other examples of this attitude of hers elsewhere in the novel? Does

it explain anything about her later affection for Pearl?

4. On page 33, Joyce notes “that when Lil and Vera talked about men. . . they often used this

language of mock conflict, as if there had to be a war between men and women.” In what ways do

the male/female relationships in the novel reinforce that belief? In what ways do they disprove it?

Which couples in the book are particularly embattled? Why? Do changes in history and culture

seem to affect the way men and women relate in the novel?

5. Consider Ray’s comments to Joyce on page 139: “Sometimes it feels to a man. . . as if women

want to make the world sweet. . . But it’s not sweet. And it’s sometimes a strain, standing on

guard, pretending to the woman that everything’s going to be all right, everything’s nice.” Do you

agree or disagree with Ray? Why? Where else in the novel does a character tell another that

“everything will be all right”? How do those two scenes differ? What do they say about the title of

the book?

6. As a young female student, Joyce describes how “once she had come, through books mostly, to

believe that there had really been other times in the past when things were done differently, she felt

sure that the past must have been a better place” (pp. 146-7). How has reading affected your

perspective of the past? Are there advantages and dangers to learning about history through

fiction? Explain.

7. Discuss the female characters’ various feelings about their appearance. How do each of them

perceive their looks and its importance in the world? Do you think that Hadley believes that social

attitudes towards women’s physical appearance has changed during the five decades depicted in

the novel? If you’re a women, do you relate to the self-image of any of the characters? Why?

8. Chapter five portrays the complex relationship between two young women, Zoe and Fiona. What

attracts the two women to each other? What pulls them apart? Can you think of a similar such

friendship that you may have had in your life? Finally, discuss the role that class and social

expectations of the 1960s plays in the separate fates of each women.

9. Why do you think Zoe and Simon are attracted to each other? How do their initial feelings

concerning family and parenthood differ? How do those perspectives change? Did your

perceptions of Zoe and Simon shift over the course of the novel?

10. The novel ends amid recent world events. What are those events? And how do the various

characters react? Do you think the novel ends on a hopeful or ominous note?

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