Four middle-aged siblings reunite at their family home in the English countryside in Hadley’s (Clever Girl, 2014, etc.) quietly masterful domestic portrait.
They arrive one by one, gathering at the decrepit old house for what may be the last time (memories are one thing; the cost of maintenance is another): Alice first, artistic and sentimental; Fran, frazzled and practical, her two children in tow and her touring musician husband frustratingly absent; Harriet, the eldest, self-contained and dignified; and Roland, the only brother, distant and academic, newly married (for the third time) to an Argentinian lawyer the sisters have yet to meet. When he arrives with his new wife and 16-year-old daughter, Molly, the family is complete, plus one: Alice has brought her ex-boyfriend’s college-aged son, Kasim, along, too. Nothing much “happens” in the novel or, at least, not outwardly. The siblings drink tea, they drink gin, they bicker; they mind Fran’s children, Ivy and Arthur, watch romance bloom between Molly and Kasim, and allow the question that has brought them together—will they sell the house?—to be buried under the business of family vacationing: food preparation, child care, swimming. But inwardly, the sisters are in near-constant upheaval. Hadley expertly captures the gentle tragedies of living, losses, and regrets that are at once momentous and too quotidian to mention: aging, the passage of time, the fissures and slights and unspoken disappointments that simmer underneath the surfaces of all families. The melancholy drama here is not external but internal; not in facts or in actions but in thoughts. Broken up into three dreamy sections—two in the present and one set in the same house a generation earlier—the novel might seem overly precious if it weren’t so bracingly precise.
Hadley is the patron saint of ordinary lives; her trademark empathy and sharp insight are out in force here.