Thursday, January 21, 2016

Review: The Past by Tessa Hadley

The Past
by Tessa Hadley
Release Date: January 5th 2016 (First published September 3rd 2015)
2016 Harper
Softcover Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062270412

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

3 / 5 Stars

These three weeks may be their last time there; the upkeep is prohibitive, and they may be forced to sell this beloved house filled with memories of their shared past (their mother took them there to live when she left their father). Yet beneath the idyllic pastoral surface, hidden passions, devastating secrets, and dangerous hostilities threaten to consume them.

Sophisticated and sleek, Roland’s new wife (his third) arouses his sisters’ jealousies and insecurities. Kasim, the twenty-year-old son of Alice’s ex-boyfriend, becomes enchanted with Molly, Roland’s sixteen-year-old daughter. Fran’s young children make an unsettling discovery in a dilapidated cottage in the woods that shatters their innocence. Passion erupts where it’s least expected, leveling the quiet self-possession of Harriet, the eldest sister.

Over the course of this summer holiday, the family’s stories and silences intertwine, small disturbances build into familial crises, and a way of life—bourgeois, literate, ritualized, Anglican—winds down to its inevitable end.

My Thoughts
The Past is one of those books where I really enjoyed the descriptive writing, but just couldn't get into the story; I did think a few times about putting it aside for a later date, but understood that if I did so, I would never come back to it. To be honest, I actually enjoyed the descriptions of the house and surrounding area better than I did the story line, and although it probably wasn't that way, it did seem like the author preferred the countryside to her characters.  

First of all, I really, really wanted to like this book. Like I'd already mentioned, the writing and descriptions were interesting, and it was very evident the author was delighted by the house and subsequent settings she described.  I love books that are quite ethereal which is why I am probably drawn to gothic stories as well as those about huge houses with big secrets from the past.  This is exactly what I thought this book was going to be like, but it was not quite that way.  There were no really big secrets to be revealed, and the past described in this novel really had no impact on the present day story.  And although I did find Jill's story interesting, I did think it was useless to the story as it really did not go anywhere with the impact on the sisters' lives today, except in some very small and subtle ways that didn't mesh together very well.  There were a lot of hints about things going on, but the plot lines really didn't go anywhere, and I was left feeling disappointed quite often when things just sort of petered out.  

Furthermore, while the descriptive writing was nice, it didn't lend itself to much character development; I didn't really feel like I connected with any of the characters.  I wasn't overly crazy about any of them and none of their stories was actually developed in any way that made them interesting.  While I know a bit about Argentina's "Disappeared" as well as about the illegal adoptions that took place having read about them in a previous novel, I am unclear as to what this had to do with Pilar and her story line; it didn't make a lot of sense to me as to how it all fit together.  And then the dramatic effect of Harriet's fantasies towards Pilar just didn't seem to work here; I'm not opposed to the story line, but it just seemed like the author was trying too hard to develop a plot line for Harriet, but didn't quite succeed at it.  For whatever reason, I liked Kasim the best, which isn't saying a lot, as he tended to be quite lazy, opinionated, and young, wanting everything but not wanting to work for anything.  He just seemed more real to me than the others.  I am also a bit baffled by the story line involving the dog and the cottage; I'm not quite sure exactly what the purpose of it all was, and besides, all I wanted to do was shake Ivy half the time, or put her in time out, with all of the things she did.  Because of all this, I tended to soak up the parts when the sisters went on their walks in the woods or spent time in retrospection as it gave me time to breathe and just enjoy the writing.

The Past was a slow novel with beautiful descriptive parts about the house and countryside; unfortunately, the descriptions and the story line didn't quite mesh all that well together, and while I don't usually mind slow novels, I do have a problem when things are muddled. To me, itt appeared as if the author had a lot of ideas for the direction of this novel, but never really took them in any of the directions that were started, only to start a new one, leaving the reader somewhat confused and unsatisfied.  While I would read another book by this author because of her writing talent, I'm not sure I would recommend this one. 


  1. A good review. I'd have to give this one a pass.

    1. This was a tough one to write. A lot of people really liked this book. Unfortunately, I was not one of them, although I did like her writing style.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.