Zac’s Take on The Past by Tessa Hadley
The Past was my first time reading anything by Tessa Hadley, or even hearing of her for that matter. But I was drawn in by the cover and the endorsement by Zadie Smith. I picked it up and read the first few paragraphs and was pulled in. The writing is so crystal clear and the details of both the physical and interior worlds of the characters are pinpoint perfect.
The language Hadley uses drew me in and kept me going, despite this being a family drama with a pile of characters. There isn’t much that happens, but every observation seemed to me a revelation, not just about the character or the environment around them, but as a new way of actually seeing the world. If you are a writer you will love the language and how it’s employed. If you aren’t a writer, you’ll enjoy the plot and it’s structure.
Speaking of the structure. It’s unique but Tessa Hadley admits in the acknowledgements that she borrowed the idea from another author, and it’s a pretty brilliant way to structure a plot. The Past first starts at a cottage with a family reunion, and then jumps to the past to show these same family members as children, but from their mother’s point of view. Finally we end up in the present again, and that’s when things really start to happen!
Jill's Take on The Past by Tessa Hadley
So maybe we haven’t all been there yet, but the scenario in which the family in Tessa Hadley’s The Past finds themselves is something most of us will have to confront in some way at least once in our lives. The family meets for three weeks in the summer at their grandparents’ house to discuss whether or not they should sell. Naturally, these three weeks are wrought with conjuring of the past melting with the present.
As I read the book, I found myself thinking that there really isn’t much going on per say, yet there’s so much going on; you know what I mean? We get to know the characters but somehow they still remain out of reach. Their motivations for how they behave, what they think and how they interact with one another are as foggy as some of the days they spend in the house itself.
The house is run down and needs a lot of tending, which none of them are interested in doing. It seems to parallel each of their lives. The characters seem to sort of drift along in the same patterns they’ve existed in their whole lives. Present but not really there. They need a little work and attention.
This is a character driven story and you feel like you are privileged to see such an internal world for these characters. The language is beautiful and the imagery astonishing. I have landscapes and houses created in my mind for how these places look and feel. There’s a textural quality to the writing that made me feel I was consuming the words that were written instead of just reading them.
Oddly, it wasn’t until after I finished reading the book and sort of letting it sit with me, that I realized how much I enjoyed it. Some of the images keep coming back to me and I find myself wondering what happened to these people. And that’s when I truly love a story; when I want to see and hear more from the place.