Free Love, Tessa Hadley


December 2022

Definitely one of my books of the year. Tessa Hadley’s Free Love gave me everything I wanted in my Christmas holiday read. She has created a flawed but sympathetic protagonist in Phyllis Fischer, a 40-something middle class mother who yearns for something more and finds it in the counterculture of west London in the late 1960s, and a young lover. Fischer and her family and new friends are all cushioned in Hadley’s rich and unapologetic language, which dances between a variety of classes and concerns as her characters come of age and chase their dreams.

I was reminded of being taught or told at one point to give your baddies redeeming features. Hadley has done this to the extent that I want even her worst characters to succeed in their hopes and dreams, and I’d stay with them for another century if I could.

While reading, I remembered a few reviews saying that Free Love isn’t her finest work. They are all wrong. I looked this up and it was a Guardian review commenting on this: “It’s long become customary for Hadley’s reviewers to point out that she’s flagrantly undersung – never longlisted for the Booker, for instance – yet the emerging consensus this time round seems to be that Free Love is below par. Call me soft but I don’t see it: almost every page struck me anew with some elegant phrasing, feline irony or shrewdly sympathetic insight. The real wonder is that she does this pretty much every three years; it’s easy to become ungrateful.”

I borrowed the hardback (Vintage, £16.99) from my brilliant library. The paperback is out on 9 Feb 2023