Readers hoping for a British telenovela will be disappointed. But for anyone who cherishes Anne Tyler and Alice Munro, the book offers similar deep pleasures. Like those North American masters of the domestic realm, Hadley crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural. If the surface of her stories is lightly etched with charm and humor, darker forces burrow underneath.
“The Past can feel blurry, with too much prosaic spelling out of what her characters are feeling. Nonetheless, Hadley’s many fans will welcome this solid addition to her continuing narrative of how brainy women and blundering men negotiate the slippery class and sex wars of modern-day Britain.
I finished The Past sadly — why did it have to end? — with a sense that I had understood something profound about both Hadley’s characters, and my own life. Many readers will, I suspect, in the presence of this exhilarating novel feel the same.
Hadley is especially talented at registering the misery that even tiny moments of personal insecurity can bring to well-adjusted people...Hadley’s novels remind us of the strength of the minute, of the intensity that tight focus can bring. They are a sign that the domestic novel still has a prominent and critical place in contemporary fiction...
...puts into words that which defies words, capturing the powerful, if ineffable emotional signals that constitute family relations, and carries them onto the page with uncanny precision and with a current of understated humor that is like a buoyant background melody.
Some of these narrators are more vivid than others; in particular, Roland seems less a man in his own right than the sum of what his sisters see. But the story flows smoothly and delicately, and its setting is irresistible.
...this book, with its abundance of explicit recurrences, could have benefited from its writer trusting her readers to find the patterns in the pages on their own. However there are plenty of bracing moments in The Past, and the best ones are to be had in the sheer pleasure of reading Hadley’s prose.
Hadley shifts omniscient point-of-view fluidly, a saving grace of a novel that sometimes needs saving. Her turns of phrase occasionally startle more than surprise, and the adult characters’ idiosyncrasies can be tedious. But she deftly weaves together the third-person narratives, assembling a patchwork of crises rooted in the ever-present past.