Free Love by Tessa Hadley – Book Review

Free Love is my first Tessa Hadley novel and I very much enjoyed her writing style. She’s so good at setting the scene, I was immediately transported back to the 1960s, when this story takes place. It really does capture the melting pot of cultures at the time that were bubbling and clashing together. The upheaval and new beginnings of society are reflected by the characters in the book.

Opening sentence: This Friday evening in late summer was so lovely that Phyllis Fischer sat at her dressing table with the window wide open onto the garden.

The swinging sixties

Free Love seamlessly shifts between character perspectives so we get to see how the members of the Fischer family feel as events unfold. Our lead character is 40-year old, Phyllis, married to Robert, they have two children: Colette and Hugh. Phyllis’ life is upended when the son of an old family friend, Nicky Knight, comes over for dinner.

I found myself very drawn to Phyllis, considered old by society the age of 40, she decides to walk away from the dull life-path she is on and embrace one that’s everything she isn’t right now. Kick started by having an affair with the much-younger, Nicky.

In her old life she’d been only half alive: too busy perfecting the appearance of her self and her home for others to admire.

Sometimes you have to do what you want

We then follow Phyllis as she abandons her middle-class life in the suburbs to live with Nicky in his small flat in Ladbroke Grove. We also get Colette’s perspective on what’s happening and I enjoyed how Colette’s and Phyllis’ storylines had a coming-of-age synergy: Colette’s being literal as she is 15, and Phyllis’ being an awakening. Colette’s storyline, however, sort of got brushed aside in the later section of the book, I would have likeD to hear more from her as she was so interesting.

The only other niggle I had was that Phyllis is only able to take this new path because she comes from money and privilege. She has an inheritance nest-egg so just plays at being poor and destitute, and the fact she abandons her children when they are still young enough to need their mother isn’t the most appealing characteristic to me…

Overall though, I devoured Free Love in a few days over the Christmas holidays – it was a great slice of escapism with more than a few clever plot moments and a wonderful trip back to the 1960s, I do recommend it. Really, when I think about it, maybe I’d like to be a bit more Phyllis and just abandon all responsibility to live how I want.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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