March: “Free Love” by Tessa Hadley

Free Love by Tessa Hadley

Our March 2022 Book of the Month

Our March Book of the Month, Free Love by Tessa Hadley, is a wonderful contemporary companion to our series about the shift from the traditional marriage plot by female writers. Hadley’s omniscient narration is reminiscent of the 19th century novel but that is where it ends. Unlike Edna Pontellier of Chopin’s The Awakening or the titular Anna Karenina, in Free Love her character Phyllis Fischer’s sexual awakening is just the spark that lights a flame of desire to live a more authentic life and have a deeper understanding of her changing world.

Hadley sets the novel during the social and political upheaval of 1967 London and her delicious details of neighborhoods, homes, clothes, and gastronomy are granular and a pleasure to read. If Tessa Hadley has not already won you over with her previous novels, Free Love is guaranteed to do so.


1967. While London comes alive with the new youth revolution, the suburban Fischer family seems to belong to an older world of conventional stability: pretty, dutiful homemaker Phyllis is married to Roger, a devoted father with a career in the Foreign Office. Their children are Colette, a bookish teenager, and Hugh, the golden boy.

But when the twenty-something son of an old friend pays the Fischers a visit one hot summer evening, and kisses Phyllis in the dark garden after dinner, something in her catches fire. Newly awake to the world, Phyllis makes a choice that defies all expectations of her as a wife and a mother. Nothing in these ordinary lives is so ordinary after all, it turns out, as the family’s upheaval mirrors the dramatic transformation of the society around them.

With scalpel-sharp insight, Tessa Hadley explores her characters’ inner worlds, laying bare their fears and longings. Daring and sensual, Free Love is an irresistible exploration of romantic love, sexual freedom and living out the truest and most meaningful version of our selves – a novel that showcases Hadley’s unrivaled ability to “put on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own” (Lily King, author of Euphoria).


Tessa Hadley is the author of six highly acclaimed novels, including Clever Girl and The Past, as well as three short story collections, most recently Bad Dreams and Other Stories, which won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker; in 2016 she was awarded the Windham Campbell Prize and the Hawthornden Prize. She lives in London.

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