Tessa Hadley’s most recent book, Late in the Day, describes a four-way relationship between two sets of friends; firstly two schoolgirl friends and then the two young men they fall in love with, then when the couples marry each other it’s a book about the friendship between them as couples, and individuals, then when one of them dies, the four become a triangle—with predictable (but still surprising) results.
Her 2015 novel, The Past, is about four siblings, three sisters and a brother, who meet for a summer holiday in the old vicarage they have all inherited from their grandparents. The house is old and dilapidated, set in an idyllic country village, there are streams and woods, and other cottages dotted around. Each of the sisters is clearly defined and recognisable, a radical, an actress and a maths teacher, with defined roles in the family group, and well worn grooves in their relationships with each other. Their brother arrives, with a new wife, and his daughter from a previous marriage, and alliances disassemble and reassemble again.
You enter into this adult family group, with a few extras, and then journey back in time to when the siblings were children, on a trip with their mother, who is returning home to her parents’ home in the vicarage, after discovering her husband’s infidelity. Even the minor characters in this book are incredibly vivid—the vicar, his wife, a village real estate agent, all finely drawn and believable. The past is with us, Hadley seems to be saying, and long ago actions can have repercussions today, even if we aren’t fully aware of them, then or now. This is a terrific, mesmerising book, and one that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it. Louise