You’ll learn more about philosophy and psychology than housewifery

Here are “twelve stories to make you smile, make you sad, and maybe make you ponder on the absurdities and tragedies in our quest for love.” Those are the author’s words, and as with all her words, they ring true; though I find, now one year into my fourth quarter-century, that the emotions they rouse are recollected in the comparative tranquility and comfortable sanctuary of encroaching old age. We have, however, all been there. “Oh pretty, pretty noose, Kate. Let me place you tenderly around my neck …”

The stories are compulsive reading, though I found I needed time between each to think through the layers of what I had learned. For example, is it an “unrealised search for perfection that gives love its elusive, painful sense of urgency?” The questions raised and observations made in each story may at certain times have crossed your mind, but never, perhaps, in words so well expressed.

“This was a very specific kind of happiness. A rather dangerous kind. It belonged entirely to Joe.” “Once you’ve got out of the habit of crying, it’s a dangerous one to get back into.” “How do people get to be such clichés and not realise?” “I’m numb in the place where pain used to be, where perhaps it ought to be.” “I don’t go out of my way to hurt anyone. It’s something that just happens.” When reading Lesley Hayes, you will glean a good deal about philosophy and psychology and almost nothing about housewifery. Mothers, incidentally, almost never get a good press.

I enjoy her dry wit, her sense of irony, her telling turn of phrase. I could quote a hundred examples, but let me tempt you further with a few. “I wonder who this ‘mum’ person is. Does he mean the washed-out hag who has turned man-hatred into an art form?” “She and I have a pact not to understand one another.” “It seemed to me that she was losing out on the depths of human emotion in which I painfully wallowed.” “I forgot not to be clever. Habit dies hard.” “Mostly, though, people didn’t close their eyes when they saw her, and so they missed a lot.” “… one of those rare flashes that fate playfully shafts you with.” “He was a complex character – a detail she hadn’t realised when she fell in love with him.” “Knowing Rachel of old, she waited to catch her as she toppled, exhausted, from her high horse.” “She grew ancient and fatigued with wisdom.”

Her stories draw you in, make you laugh and cry, and above all make you think deeply about the human condition and the minefield of relationships we all stumble through with varying degrees of damage. They are both entertaining and valuable, and I recommend them without reservation.