The Past, Tessa Hadley, Harper, 2016, 310 pp
Summary from Goodreads: Three adult sisters and their brother meet up at their grandparents' country home for their annual family holiday--three long, hot summer weeks. The beloved but crumbling house is full of memories of their childhood--of when their mother took them to stay with her parents when she left their father--but this could be their last summer in the house, now they may have to sell it. And under the idyllic pastoral surface, there are tensions.
One of the ways I like to nerd out as a reader is to read several novels that basically tell the same story in different ways. Then I compare and contrast in my mind about the various books.
The Past falls into that group of novels in which a family of adult siblings get together in the home where they grew up for a last reunion before that home must be sold. I think we are drawn to such stories because they examine at least three generations, because all families have their quirks and issues, sorrows and joys, and because we can see how the passing of almost one hundred years affects the way life is for each generation.
Literary fiction, by which I mean fiction with skillful writing and deeper thoughts about life than so-called mainstream, commercial, or popular fiction, is my reading preference. I totally get it that it is not for everyone. The Past is highly literary. Set in a small British town, it moves at a slow pace with plenty of description of weather and place as well as a look at the inner lives of the characters. There is however plenty of tension in the story that builds to an unexpected climax.
I liked it. It got me to look again at my own family and the ways in which our shared life unites us while our different personalities create friction. I realized that every family has a sort of myth about itself which is just that; a myth, not the truth.
This year as I was following The Tournament of Books, I became impressed by one of the many people who comment on each day's winners and losers. When the above mentioned person started a new group on Goodreads, I joined. We read and discuss new literary fiction. Our first group read was The Past and that is how I came to read it.
I don't actually enjoy on-line book discussions because they are too disjointed for me. I get worked up about some of the vitriol people express about the book. I much more enjoy book discussions in real life where the dialogue is immediate and we can respond to each other in real time. But I am intrigued by the books this group intends to read.
So I lurk and don't comment often. The group's creator and moderator is conscientious, thoughtful, and kind. That helps. I am glad to have read Tessa Hadley and will probably seek out other novels by her.
Books I have also enjoyed on this theme:
The Green Road, by Anne Enright
Wish You Were Here, by Stewart O'Nan
Can you recommend others I might like?
Do you participate in on-line book discussions? If so, what makes them work for you?
(The Past is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)