Title: The Past
Author: Tessa Hadley
Rating: 4.25 / 5
I really liked this one. I picked it up at my university library in a fit of end-of-semester emotions; I had just finished grading students’ finals and dropped them back in the office. I was quite elated and skipped on over to the library for a treat. I came away with an armful of books, most of which I was already planning on reading. This book was an impulse though; I picked it up just for the cover–isn’t that a gorgeous cover? And I have to say I’m quite pleased with my gut instinct on this one because I really liked it. It’s a solid 4 stars–“I really liked it.” And I really did!
Here’s what critics of the novel say: It’s boring. The characters are unlikeable. Nothing happens.
I guess we all have our likes and dislikes. After a couple pages, I did briefly wonder if I should set it down. I am so glad I didn’t–by the end of the first chapter, I was hooked. But then, I’m an only child, and this is a book of family drama. Understated, but still…lots of family drama. I was kind of fascinated by it. As for likable characters, I didn’t think these people were particularly unlikable; they’re just your run-of-the-mill people, which to me makes them more interesting than characters who are just “likable.” Heroes are boring. (Except for you, Harry Potter.) How many people are just straight up “likable,” especially when they’re living in a house with their adult siblings for three weeks? There was only one character in this book that I actually disliked, but having that character in the mix made the whole thing more interesting.
Okay, so what’s it about? There are four siblings, now middle-aged adults, who reconvene every year for a three week holiday in their mother’s childhood home in a small country town on the west coast of England. The house is large and everyone has their baggage. That’s basically it. There’s an interlude in the middle that is set in the same place but with the siblings’ mother as a young woman. It kind of reminded me of The Nest, but a bit more serious in tone.
I liked Hadley’s writing a lot. I thought the way she wrote her characters in particular was brilliant. I like character studies, and that’s kind of what this felt like–a study of a family; not too dysfunctional, not too well off. Nothing much “happens,” I suppose–although, in some senses, quite a bit happens, but it boils down to mostly just people with their people stuff. If you’re thinking “why would I read that??” then yeah, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the book! But if you’re thinking, “ah yes, well written characters and people with their people stuff…,” then I suggest giving it a shot. You’ll probably know by the end of the first chapter (25 pages, large font) if it’s your cup of tea. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and I would be quite pleased if every book I read was this good.