In Tessa Hadley’s newest novel set in the English countryside in the midst of a hot summer, not a whole lot is going on, at least not on the outside. But under the skin of the story comes a tale of family so quiet and sophisticated that every human will see something of themselves.
It’s August in England. Four adult siblings have decided to get together at the old family cottage. It’s crumbling down around itself and needs oh-so-much attention. Now that their mother and grandmother are no longer alive, these four have to decide if they will part with it or, bring it up to speed.
Alice was once an actress and it shows with her attitude of “all about me.” She’s brought along an ex boyfriend’s 20-year old son on a lark, and he’s bored to tears. Until the prickles of first love begin to prod him awake.
Fran is younger than Alicia and has her two precocious young children in tow. No husband in sight, however, as he’s chosen to forgo the trip to work in his band.
Harriet is the shy and unadorned sister. The one who has yet to learn how to dress.
Roland is the princely brother who is showing off his “third” wife and his sixteen year old daughter by a former wife.
The usual dust bunnies and cobwebs prevail as the story begins. After all, when a property sits untended for months on end, there are bound to be problems and dirt. And this is an old cottage. It needs a lot of money and love to fix it up. Will they toss it to the wind, or decide to keep it in the family?
A story of family angst is perfect for these weeks right after the holidays. I dare say many of you have just experienced family visitors who only get together rarely. You all surely have stories to tell. So as you read about middle-age siblings discussing events of years’ past, you have some of your own stories, I’m sure.
It’s not all just about the adults here. Roland’s teenage daughter Molly falls in love for the first time. It’s sweet and poignant. Takes me back in time and reminds me what it feels like to have your emotions and senses on the tip of your nose. And, Kasim, the young man Molly’s fallen for, discovers that just maybe this old falling-down place is not so bad after all; not now that he is spending his days perfumed with first love.
Roland’s new wife is lovely and chic. She’s from Argentina. She brings her own problems to the table. Her relationship with Harriet is surprising and smart. But what is she hiding?
I had to chuckle while reading Ron Charles’s review of THE PAST in Washington Post. He says,” Unfortunately, ” The Past” is one of those books that withers in summary. From a distance, it sounds as engaging as a still-life painting in a hotel room.”Ron is right; it’s truly difficult to make this book sound anything but mundane. However, the prose is exquisite. The characters are so real. And most people can relate to the story.
The best author to compare Hadley to would have to be Anne Tyler. There you go.
The two youngsters come across something awkwardly disturbing early in the story. They have entered a falling down cottage in the woods when they were not supposed to. What they encounter gives underlying tension throughout the novel. I kept wondering how it was going to be resolved.
I can’t help but think of an evening last year when I was sitting at the dinner table with my three children and my husband. They were all sans partners and spouses. The stories began coming. And the way they each remembered them was unique. This novel brought this all back for me. And I loved it.
My review copy came from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review.