Sunday 26 January 2020

Fiction: The Past by Tessa Hadley

Vintage, €11.95

The Past by Tessa Hadley
The Past by Tessa Hadley

Madeleine Keane

A quartet of siblings gather for a three-week summer holiday at their grandparents' rectory. There's the eldest, Harriet, a quiet revolutionary, and her sister, flighty former actress Alice, who is accompanied by her ex-boyfriend's moody son Kasim. The youngest is Fran, harassed mother of Ivy and Arthur, sans musician husband Jeff. The three sisters are joined by philosopher brother Roland, his teenage daughter Molly and his new (third) wife, Pilar - beautiful, Argentinian and a lawyer.

Hadley is a greatly admired English author, who, in the vein of Anne Tyler, is a skilled portraitist of families. In The Past, her sixth novel, she places two generations in two locales - a dilapidated cottage in the woods providing a sinister counterpoint to the country house where the siblings were raised after their mother's premature death and father's subsequent departure. Now they must decide whether to sell it or not. As passions and secrets of all sorts start to simmer, we are pulled back to the past and a vivid interlude recalls their entrancing mother and her parents.

Hadley is wonderfully observant about the fractious nature of family dynamics. "They sulked for five minutes and couldn't forgive each other, until they forgot about it and went back to their gossip, which circled eternally." An intelligent, exquisitely rendered novel.

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