Tessa Hadley (Bristol, 1956) published her first book when she was forty-six years old. Since then she has written eight novels and has won the favor of readers and critics. The last two – Amor libre/Amor lliure (2020) and Lo que que qué hay de luz/Cap al tard (2022) – were published by Sexto Piso and Edicions in 1984, which now add to their catalog The past, which precedes them in the time, and that ratifies the features that we already knew about his narrative. The British woman constructs classic novels, gives prominence to female characters, portrays the middle class, focuses on family relationships; They are narratives that take place in well-defined settings and where the psychological depth of the characters goes hand in hand with simple prose in the best sense of the word.

The author, a professor at the University of Bath Spa, worked on the writing of Henry James during her training, which undoubtedly left its mark on her literary production. The past is structured in three parts – the first and third refer to the present and the second, to a previous time, which here is set in 1968 with allusions to the French student movement – ​​and tells us about the meeting in the countryside (Kington) during the summer vacation of four siblings, three women – Alice, Harriet and Fran – and a boy – Roland –, in the house that had belonged to the family – the mother died early of cancer and the father left and remarried.

This construction in the countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of their London lives, requires fine-tuning and we have to decide what to do with it – Aixa de la Cruz starts from the same premise in her latest work, Las heiresses –. Alice arrives with a teenager, Kasim – son of a former couple –, Harriet, the eldest, does it alone, Fran with her two children – her husband has found an excuse to be away – and Roland, the last to appear, comes with his new wife, Pilar, who is Argentine – referring to the theme of the dictatorship and the disappeared – and a lawyer, and Molly, the sixteen-year-old daughter he had with his first wife. Alice, enthusiastic and idealistic, acts as leader of a heterogeneous group where each one integrates in her own way.

Hadley introduces us to this wide family universe, to the landscape that surrounds them – she accurately describes the plants, climate and birds of the place – and to the conversations they have with each other, keys to understanding their psychological profiles and vital positions. (“I’m afraid of everything,” says Alice). Adults, young people and children alike count in his pen, which provides the reader with a wide panoramic vision. This is how it brings us closer to the loneliness, secrets and drives of the elderly – sex and affections, ideology and political positions –, to the attraction of the young or to the innocence and fun of the little ones during their visits to the cabin. –a place that is fixed in memory throughout the volume–.

At times suspense, adventure or introspection prevail, as happens in most existences. In the final section of the book, the pace accelerates, the references return and the second chapter makes more sense, which at the time of addressing it seemed not to fit much and hindered reading.

The British writer is in the vein of other brilliant contemporary authors such as Anne Tyler or Elizabeth Strout with whom she shares the creation of stories that reflect the daily lives of ordinary people; All of them manage the mechanisms so that we empathize with their characters and understand how they speak and act, as if we readers knew them.

With clear prose, agile dialogues and narrative lung, Tessa Hadley gives us an entertaining novel from the hand of ordinary beings, to whom, like all of us, things happen.

Tessa Hadley El pasado / El passato Chaste translation. by Magdalena Palmer, in cat. by Núria Busquet Molist. Sexto Piso / Editions of 1984 304 / 352 pages. 22.90 euros