Sunstroke and Other Stories

Tessa Hadley




Trade Paperback

192 Pages


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A New York Times Notable Book of the YearA finalist for The Story Prize
Tessa Hadley's stories trace the currents of desire, desperation, and mischief that that lie hidden inside domestic relationships.
A mother hears her son's confession that he's cheating on his girlfriend; a student falls in love with a professor and initiates an affair with a man who looks just like him. A boy on a seaside vacation realizes that a grown-up woman is pressing dangerously close.
In Tessa Hadley's stories, everyone conspires to hold the loving and stable surface of family life together, as old secrets and new appetites threaten to blow it apart.


Praise for Sunstroke and Other Stories

“A collection of Hadley's miraculous short stories. Deft and resonant, they encapsulate moments of hope and humiliation in a kind of shorthand of different lives lived. Hadley never fails to surprise, but her surprises are understated—not the "aha" fakery of some gimmicky short fiction but the small shift in expectations or results that's deeply felt but doesn't show, like the twitch of a rudder that sets a boat gliding on a new course.”—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times

"Wholly satisfying . . . Sunstroke catches life on the wing and pins it, fiercely struggling, to the page."—The Sunday Times (London)

"Masterful . . . Tessa Hadley's skill is in taking the ordinary and twisting it, tearing through the surface of veiled emotions kept at bay by everyday humdrum to reveal the hidden tensions and quiet panic beneath."—The Express on Sunday

"Hadley's style is as discreet as good tailoring. She writes with an elegant assurance . . . with a technique so self-effacing that the image is in one's brain long before one can analyze how her words were put there."—The Independent

"Absorbing and slyly revelatory."—The Daily Mail

“The female protagonist in Hadley's first novel, Accidents in the Home, commits adultery to escape domestic drudgery and a lackluster marriage. In their desperation and plaintiveness about the loss of sexual vigor and the thrill of the tryst, the women in these 11 stories (ten previously published) are more like Philip Roth's men than Madame Bovary. In "Exchanges," an older woman who's an Old Testament miracle away from having another child sleeps with a much younger man. As a result, her friend ponders her own sexual life span and concludes that you're not in your right mind to indulge in that kind of adulterous love. Most of the time, though, Hadley is expert at catching her characters trying to reason their actions. The logic has the air of economics: two mothers feel a sensation of "sensual surplus"; one of them thinks her husband "owes" her the passionate kiss she gave a family friend; a man bumps into the woman who seduced him as a teenager and sleeps with her "as if he was claiming something he was owed." Hadley's stories span years, and her characters rarely end up where they started. While the changes they undergo and the realizations they come to aren't always seemly, they're thrilling to witness.”—Library Journal

“Ten unorthodox stories demonstrate exactly how quiet desperation is the English way. It is not what happens but the significance of what doesn't that's so exquisitely illuminated by frequent New Yorker contributor Hadley (Everything Will Be Alright, 2003, etc.). In "Sunstroke," young mothers Rachel and Janie cope with six children at a beachside resort. Rachel muses that her husband's friend Kieran might be infatuated with her, but it's Janie Kieran kisses on a moonless nighttime stroll. "Buckets of Blood" shows a teenager assisting almost enviously at her older sister's miscarriage. Adult women look back on their love lives either with provisional relief that sexual tension is over ("Mother's Son") or with the dogged declaration that they will never again experience passion ("Exchanges"). In "Phosphorescence," Graham, who at 13 was toyed with by his parent's friend Claudia, seeks her out 25 years later, pressuring the grandmother of two to finally deliver on what she had once so ambiguously promised to do. "The Enemy" reviews the unsettling effect charismatic leftist student Keith had on Caro in 1968. Even though it was her sister who married and divorced him, the now stooped, balding, potbellied Keith still has the power to derail Caro's life merely by passing through it. Patrick, another intellectual with bad posture and a thickening middle, is the object of his student Carla's unrequited crush, or so she assumes when seducing "The Surrogate," a man who resembles Patrick. In "A Card Trick," established scholar Gina recalls the 1974 summer she spent with a wealthy family as a bookish, overweight 18-year-old. Her memory of tricking one of the household's adorable but dimwitted sonsintertwines with a repeat visit to her favorite Edwardian author's house, where she discovers, in a manuscript, a harrowing scene of hopeless longing that was abridged in the published novel. A collection of strikingly original narratives. “—Kirkus Reviews

"Ten elegant stories from Welsh author Hadley explore the various stages of women's experience. The title story, set at a seaside cottage in Wales and told in an austerely omniscient voice, tracks two attractive early-30ish mothers, one married, the other partnered, who each begin a flirtation with a visiting doctor friend. In "Mother’s Son," the other woman in an adulterous affair that ended 20 years before finds herself ruefully counseling her grown son—the product of the affair—on dealing with his romantic troubles. Each of these beautifully crafted tales (some set in the 1970s) encapsulates a tender, transformative moment for these real characters, such as the provincial vicar's daughter in "Buckets of Blood" sent up to visit her older sister in Cambridge for the week who finds, to her horror and disappointment, her sister reeling from a miscarriage that puts her, like their worn-out mother, among the "ranks of women submerged and knowing amid their biology." In another tale, a man tracks down the now matronly woman who flirted with him when he was a blushing 13-year-old on a seaside holiday with his family 25 years before. Hadley's eerie, knowing portrayals speak to the heart as much as the mind."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Tessa Hadley's first novel, Accidents in the Home, was longlisted for The Guardian's First Book Award. Four of the stories in Sunstroke were published in The New Yorker. Hadley lives in Cardiff, Wales. Her new novel, Master Bedroom, will be published by Henry Holt in August 2007.
Read the full excerpt


  • Tessa Hadley

  • Tessa Hadley's first novel, Accidents in the Home, was longlisted for The Guardian's First Book Award. Four of the stories in Sunstroke were published in The New Yorker. Hadley lives in Cardiff, Wales. Her latest novel is Master Bedroom.
  • Tessa Hadley Rob Clifford