Picked as Waterstone’s July book of the month, The Past by Tessa Hadley is a beautifully crafted tale based around what is possibly a families last holiday in their grandparent’s former home. Four Siblings Alice, Roland, Fran and Harriet, along with various family member’s, come together for what they think maybe the last holiday they spend together. A decision has to be made, invest their funds in maintaining their one link to their childhood and a place they can come together, or sell and risk losing the fragile bond that keeps them together as a family.
But times change and each member of the group brings with them their own insecurities and complicated family lives. As a result they pull against each other rather than together. Each feels frustrated by their individual lives and at a loss to understand the troubled moods and emotions of their siblings. They come together over a long summer holiday and as secrets long buried rise to the surface, they threaten to shatter their desire, especially that of only brother Roland, to retain this fiction of a loving family.
Its’ told with a considered understanding of the underlying currents of love within the family, while acknowledging the tensions and destructive currents that can make these gatherings a minefield to navigate through. Hadley gives us a family, who effectively lead lives that drag them apart and ultimately could see their relationships change forever. Connections are always in a state of flux and the author brings this clearly into focus over a short period of time, highlighting the tender and fraught relationships that bind not only families but close friends.
This is a story based around the narrow and sometimes claustrophobic surroundings of a family home. It’s not a sweeping family drama, set across continents and ages of time and it’s from this intimacy, that the novel gains its ultimate strength and compelling narrative. All families have hidden within the spider web of relationships secrets, that when they leak out have the potential to change relationships, whether for the better or potentially causing painful schisms, and this is what Hadley tenderly explores in The Past. With incredible insight she threatens to explode the myth that family is everything, that we have some kind of unbreakable bond with those we are related to. Can Roland, Alice, Fran and Harriet, overcome all that troubles them to remain a family, or will the end of this holiday drive a barrier between them, that can never be healed.
An absorbing tale, that left me feeling for each character and wanting the family to find peace and support from within. A worthy book of the month and a definite 5* read.
Publisher: Vintage Publishing