When four adult siblings come together at the old family home in Devon, England, for their annual retreat tensions rise immediately. The siblings — Alice, Fran, Harriet, and Rolland — have brought along some additional family members. Oft-married Rolland brings his new wife, the exotic Pilar brings her teenaged daughter Molly, Fran brings her two young children Ivy and Arthur, and Alice brings the son of her ex-lover, Kasim. A complex set of characters who all share secrets, desires, grudges, and history.
Hadley has created a lush backdrop against which the family must decide whether to sell the crumbling homestead. The money would be nice, of course, but memories linger, and it’s hard to come to a mutual decision. As the three-week reunion passes, mysteries present themselves. The young Ivy and Arthur make an innocence-destroying discovery at an old cottage on the property and struggle whether to tell the grown-ups. Meanwhile, Kasim, unaware of the significance of their find, decides this might be the perfect place for seducing Molly.
Harriet, the quiet unmarried sister, discovers an awakening within her and acts on it. It’s a misjudgment and causes her humiliation she’s not sure she can bear.
As memory and nostalgia mix with both intrigue and practical concerns, we see each character revealed to us in the light of their past and the reality of their future. This novel is perfect for book clubs that are fascinated by what makes family dynamics unique.
The Past by Tessa Hadley. Harper Perennial/HarperCollins; ISBN 9780062270429; $15.99.
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