In her latest novel, The Past, Tessa Hadley writes about four adult siblings who come to stay for a few days at their grandfather’s house in order to decide the future of this place that has meant so much to their past. Hadley first became known in this country for her short stories that regularly appear in the New Yorker. Hadley was reached by phone at her hotel before an appearance at Free Library of Philadelphia. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
RA: When your novel was sent to me, all I knew about it was that it was called The Past, and I thought of course it was going to be a huge, mammoth work dealing with hundreds of years of histories and continents, something that’s worthy of such a huge title. Obviously the past is a huge subject in it, but it’s dealing with a tiny family. What made you put a title so broad on a subject so intensely focused?
TH: It took me ages to get that title. I was about two-thirds of the way through and I had about three or four working titles, all of which I was pretending to myself I was satisfied with, and suddenly it was just so obvious. I suppose what I really think is you’re right — there’s something funny about calling it The Past and then it’s this tiny little fragment of one family history in one country. But that huge great big billion-year past is made up of tiny little pieces, and the tiny little pieces, like that little family, the shards of individual pasts, actually capture in them bits of history, bits of historical change. In the novel, we feel the change between 1968, that moment when the great plates underlying our cultural and social life seemed to be shifting, and then the present, 40-odd years later, when, well, maybe one of the things one feels is that they haven’t shifted as much as everybody thought they were going to in 1968. I hope that always the individual story kind of opens onto the bigger history, if in a winding way. More… “A Thing of The Past“