Free love

Free Love, published January 2022, covers ground that will be familiar to fans of Tessa Hadley’s consistently brilliant novels and short stories. Her skill lies in the subtle way she dissects her characters’ inner lives, exposing their fears and desires. I read an advance copy courtesy of Net Galley and wasn’t disappointed. After struggling with my December Dickens (now in its sixth year) I abandoned Nicholas Nickleby until next December and tore through Free Love.

It’s 1967 and the weather is hot; with the new youth revolution London is coming alive, but in the suburbs the conventional Fischer family hasn’t changed. Pretty housewife, Phyllis is married to Roger, who has a good career in the Foreign Office but is dull to the point of boredom. Their plain daughter Colette loves books and Hugh is the favourite child, loved by his mother but destined to go away to school and forget her.

When the son of an old friend comes for dinner, and kisses Phyllis in the garden, she is transformed. Nothing for her is ever the same again: ‘Under the placid surface of suburbia, something was unhinged.’ Eventually Phyllis makes a choice totally against everything her upbringing has prepared her for. In this remarkable novel the upheaval in the family echoes the dramatic reinvention of society in the 1960s.

Highly recommended * * * * *

Free Love is a compulsive, irresistible exploration of romantic love, sexual freedom and living out the truest and most meaningful version of our lives.’ Net Galley

‘She has such great psychological insights into human beings, which is rare. She is one of the best fiction writers writing today.’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Tessa Hadley recruits admirers with each book. She writes with authority, and with delicacy: she explores nuance, but speaks plainly; she is one of those writers a reader trusts.’ Hilary Mantel

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