As Sameer Rahim says in The Telegraph, Hadley’s subject is ’the insistent pressure of sexual desire’. This is a novel of sex and repression, of revolution and stasis, of self-knowledge and self-deception, of infidelities and constancy, of flight and refuge. Woven around decrepit buildings which are as treacherous as their human occupants, the story takes in the epic events of the last fifty years – the 1968 upheavals in Paris, the appalling history of Argentina, more recent uprisings in Libya and Syria, the sexual revolution of the sixties, women’s fight for equality in the workplace – and spins them into an attenuated gossamer-like fabric that envelopes the apparently mundane domesticity of an English holiday in the country.
Like picking up a glass of water and finding it’s a glass of gin, the undercurrents of violence and failure are brilliantly distilled into an atmosphere of menace which subverts the genre beyond all recognition. Women are both experienced, and not – the sixteen year old Molly proves more adept at seduction than her aunt – and the men are both professionally successful and aware of their fakery, forever present and absent simultaneously.
Throughout the novel Hadley presents us with the ersatz & the echt and leaves us to decide which is which. Parents and children don’t find or recognise each other, genders and sexual orientation are fluid, beauty and decay intersect, knowledge is attained and discarded, and successive generations fail to learn from the past.