Tuesday, January 5, 2016

book review: The Past by Tessa Hadley

The backstory: Tessa Hadley has been on my 'meaning to read' list for years.

The basics: Four adult siblings, along with their children and one new spouse, gather at their country house for a three week vacation.

My thoughts: Part of me has a hard time reading novels set at different temperature extremes than the one I'm currently experiencing. It's hard for me to remember how much I dislike the heat of summer in the middle of an Iowa winter (and vice versa), but Hadley made this summer country house come alive. The omniscient narrator is filled with wisdom, and I marveled at Hadley's ability to juggle so many characters in ways that left each one fully formed. It's a challenge to introduce a relatively large cast of characters so quickly, including those not present, but I was never confused about which sibling was which or whose children belonged where.

As rich as the descriptions and insights were, Hadley is also a gifted writer of dialogue:
"--You shouldn't say God, said Hettie.--Grandfather doesn't like it. --He isn't here. He's visiting the sick. --Thank God for the sick, said Jill. --We can swear until he gets back."
There's a necessary pacing to conversations had with adult siblings, and it's demonstrated with full effect here:
"Had  anyone, Alice insufferably said, ever yet seen her with a book? Pilar wanted to belong inside Roland's family because of Roland: she wasn't interested, really, in his sisters' separate selves, and it was obvious that she'd taken against Alice."
It subtly shifts, too, when characters less familiar with each other speak. All of this is so subtle, but it infused this novel with so much realness.

Favorite passage: "This wasn't the anodyne reading their middle-class neighbours spoke of, helping you slip over a threshold into sleep, equivalent to swallowing pills, the marker progressing through the book in modest increments. Sophy and Grantham devoured their books: reading was a freedom torn out of the day's regulated fabric.

The verdict: The Past made a Hadley fan out of me. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with this family. Hadley's characters, prose, and dialogue shine.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 5, 2016 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Past from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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1 comment:

  1. I'm reading this right now and I'm quite enjoying it. But for some reason the 'present' section is appealing to me much more than the 'past'.


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