The Past by Tessa Hadley

the-past by tessa hadleyTessa Hadley is one of those writers who is quite well known in the UK, but when I lived in Canada I’d never heard of her. For that reason alone, I was interested in reading The Past. But it also has that age-old story strain that I fall for every time: family gets together at summer home to make a decision.

The Past is a very quiet and subtle novel. Not a lot happens. Really, it is about the quotidian affairs of a family on holidays in Southern England. But it is because of that that small events come to take on greater importance than they otherwise would. A brother – predictably – shows up late with his new wife. A sister’s step-son behaves badly. That sort of thing.

I can honestly say that I’m not sure if I will read Hadley again. The reason this book worked for me is because of the setting, but when I look at her other works they don’t grab me the same way. That being said, I’d still put Hadley in the ‘very good writer category’ because that is what she is. I’m just not sure it is my style of writing. There’s something about it that’s very domestic, even, dare i say, womanly.

Who would like this book? I’m going to go out on a limb here and compare Hadley to Alice Munro. I know Munro is a good writer, but i can’t get all rapturous about her the way some people do. I’ll read her,but I don’t always enjoy her. Both writers deal with everyday life, the domestic and women’s thoughts and feelings.


  1. I’m such a sucker for family reunion type books as well! And this one sounds a bit like The Vacationers from last summer, which fell flat for me. I think I’ll pass on this one…I’ve also heard from another blogger I trust that she didn’t love this one.

  2. The cover of this book really gets my attention – I might have read it just for its cover. For some reason I thought Tessa Hadley wrote mysteries/thrillers. Why did I think that? Good thing I read your review. 🙂

  3. Happy New Year Tanya! (a little late) This is a book I will look for at the library. As with you, the setting appeals. Interesting that I’ve never found anyone say they were ‘lukewarm’ re Alice Munro and that’s how I feel. I respect her as an excellent writer but just not for me. L

  4. I clicked on your post and was trying to think why this title sounded so familiar…
    Then I realized, I tried to read it and gave up after like 200 pages. Normally I’m all about this kind of book where nothing really happens and I can’t tell you what it was about it that made me quit it. But it wasn’t for me. Sounds like you didn’t have strong reactions to the work either.

  5. So interesting to see this review! I tried with this book, but found Hadley’s writing felt almost like a romance novel- too much of everything and not subtle at all. Now you have me wondering if I gave up too soon.

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