Book of The Week: The Past – Tess Hadley

For readers who shed a private tear when Alice Munro announced after winning the Nobel Prize that she was retiring from writing, take heart and discover Tessa Hadley.

She’s already a literary superstar in England, receiving the kind of unanimous superlatives one rarely sees:

“Hadley should be a bestseller rather than literary fiction’s best kept secret…. [She] is an exquisite writer, a writer’s writer, with a fine eye for detail and a way of crafting sentences that stop and make you inhale.”
Times (London)

“[An] expertly wrought depiction of family life. Hadley’s arresting descriptions of the physical and emotional landscape, and her tender approach to love, lust and, crucially, the passing of time underline her reputation as one of the UK’s finest contemporary novelists.
Financial Times (London)

Masterly….When it comes to domestic drama Hadley is without rival, and here her considerable talent is poured into an astonishingly astute grasp of ‘the sheer irritation and perplexity of family coexistence’.”
Independent (London)

“Tessa Hadley has become one of this country’s great contemporary novelists. She is equipped with an armoury of techniques and skills that may yet secure her a position as the greatest of them.”
The Guardian (London)

American readers may be familiar with her from her exquisitely crafted stories which frequently appear in the New Yorker. Harper has also published two novels and a collection of stories here in the U.S. (2014’s Clever Girl is one of my all-time favorite novels—a female compliment to the astonishingly moving interiority of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart.)

This new novel, The Past, is the story of four siblings reuniting for a summer vacation at a family country house that had been their grandparents’ home. During this holiday they will decide whether or not to keep the house. As Hadley skillfully and empathetically walks us through the inner lives of family members past and present we come to see the way individual choices echo through time and the ways the past remains, even as we move on and away.

I’m going to list a lot of praise below not only because Hadley deserves it but because you’ll see that from the starred advance reviews, to the quality of admiration she receives from other literary writers, to the bookseller support–Hadley is one of the very best writers working today.

The Past is an Indie Next pick and you can expect it to be reviewed widely. Tessa Hadley will appear on The Diane Rehm Show on 1/21/16.

“Masterful…. Captures the gentle tragedies of living, losses, and regrets…. Hadley is the patron saint of ordinary lives; her trademark empathy and sharp insight are out in force here.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“A fresh take on a familiar story of fractious family reunions where old resentments resurface, new alliances form, and long-buried secrets are uncovered. A great read whether at the cottage or just dreaming of one.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Not much happens in this sixth novel from Hadley, yet even its most quotidian events seem bathed in meaning and consequence….But like her previous works, it’s Hadley’s ability to probe the quirks of her characters’ psyches that makes this novel exceptional….This is familial drama at its best—unabashedly ordinary yet undoubtedly captivating.”
Publishers Weekly

“Placing fraught family relationships under the microscope, Hadley, wise and discerning, offers a subtle-yet-bold examination of complex emotional subtexts that have the power to bring kin together or destroy the bonds that would otherwise unite them.”

“Tessa Hadley recruits admirers with each book. She writes with authority, and with delicacy: she explores nuance, but speaks plainly; she is one of those writers a reader trusts.”
— Hilary Mantel

I find Tessa Hadley’s work genuinely helpful, especially when it comes to the big subjects: love and marriage, the political versus the personal, children, friendship. And then there are the sentences themselves, so precise and beautiful, often sly, sometimes devastating, always expertly paced. Few writers give me such consistent pleasure.”
— Zadie Smith

“Few writers have been as important to me as Tessa Hadley. She puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master, and The Past is a big, brilliant novel: sensual, wise, compelling—and utterly magnificent.”
— Lily King

I remain impressed by everything she does. This novel is beautiful and subtly intricate. It builds so slowly and gently that you do not see the storm until it’s too late. She handles the tension underneath the idyllic setting masterfully.”
— Brittany Jackson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

I absolutely loved this novel of an extended family returning to their ancestral home in rural England for a vacation. The endless rain creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that would make for a wonderful play. Hadley effortlessly slips between the points of view of the four middle aged siblings and their children. Tensions flare when Alice discovers a cache of old letters written around the time of their mother’s deaths. New passions are stirred by the two outsiders in their midst. The past, illuminated in the middle section of the book, always hangs over the present for Hadley’s characters and for us, the lucky readers.”
— Arsen Kashkashian, Boulder Book Store, Boulder CO

“Tessa Hadley’s new novel The Past is a story of memory, myth and truth….Hadley takes the reader to the past for the middle section of the novel, and this episode accomplishes something magical—by knowing the secrets and motives of the past, the reader becomes in effect the parent of the four adult children. As we return to the present, we cheer and mourn the decisions and actions of the family and are rueful witnesses to the end of the holiday….The Past is a beautiful and resonant novel.”
— Audrey Bullar, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

The Past (9780062270412) by Tessa Hadley. $26.99 hardcover. 1/5/16 on sale.

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