“In order for love to survive,
you had to close yourself off to a certain extent.”
The Past is the story of a family, a past, and an old cottage of childhood memories. A family gathers at the cottage of their youth to decide whether or not to sell and the all too-familiar family dynamics begin to surface as they always do.
The book begins in the present as the Crane family - four adult siblings, along with their various children, almost-children and romantic baggage meet at a quant English cottage once belonging to their grandmother. The home now lays in disarray, repairs are needed and it has become quite clear that simple upkeep will be expensive.
Harriet, the oldest and a tried and true introvert prefers to be alone. She dreads socializing and retreats quite often on solitary walks. Alice, the nostalgic and dramatic sibling, arrives with the son of her recent ex-boyfriend. Kasim is a 20-year old student who like most at that age are moody and think they know everything. The youngest sibling, Fran comes with her two children - both under 10 after failing to convince her carefree musician husband to join her. Roland, the only brother brings his most recent wife, Pilar and his 16-year-old daughter, Molly.
As so often happens, the siblings quickly fall into their old patterns of camaraderie and both good and bad tensions begin to surface. Conflicts and intrigue arise; Molly and Kasim become interested in one another, Ivy and Arthur find dark secrets hidden in a secret cottage near the property and Harriet finds herself infatuated with her brother's wife, Pilar. Fran remains the sensible one, keeping everything running mechanically and everyone pleasant.
Halfway through the novel, we are swept away to the past. The reader is taken to the siblings' childhoods, when their mother Jill temporarily brought them to this same house to visit her parents. Jill died of cancer when they children were still young and their father suffered a nervous breakdown and moved to France after she passed away. The four Crane siblings helped raise one another, and from this point it becomes clear that the dynamics at play were largely ingrained by this shared wound. Throughout, it is clear that the Cranes are wounded from the scars of their past, but incredibly loving and loyal to one another above all else.
Beautiful. Tessa Hadley's continues to astound me. The Past is no different. All too often (in my opinion), familial stories are often tried and blah. There are characters, but no substance. It is clear from the beginning that Tessa knows her characters in and out and the threads that bind them flow seamlessly throughout the novel. Her rich descriptions of family are exceptional, as is her astute understanding of the complexities of family life.