In Review

Free Love by Tessa Hadley: its publication is a ‘cause for celebration’

Hadley’s eighth novel ‘adds a Sixties twist to Anna Karenina’

Tessa Hadley is justly lauded for “elevating the domestic novel to literary fiction” in her stories about the “shifting geometries” of middle-class families, said Mia Levitin in the FTFree Love, her eighth novel, “adds a Sixties twist to Anna Karenina”.

Set in 1967, it centres on 40-year-old Phyllis Fischer, a well-off suburban housewife married to Roger, a senior civil servant. One summer night, twenty-something Nicky – the son of a family friend – comes to supper. He and Phyllis steal an “illicit kiss” – and embark on an affair. Leaving home without a forwarding address, Phyllis swaps her cosy life with Roger for “then-bohemian Ladbroke Grove” (where Nicky occupies a squalid bedsit).

Hadley’s style is as “sumptuous” as ever, and her characterisations are superb. While this isn’t perhaps her best novel, its publication is a “cause for celebration”.

Hadley has been criticised for the “narrowness of her social concerns – her incorrigible preoccupation with Cecilias, Harriets and Rolands”, said James Marriott in The Times. So it’s gratifying that in this “beautiful and exciting” novel, she contrasts the bourgeois world with the “supremely undomesticated” 1960s counterculture.

Yet there’s a problem, said Johanna Thomas-Corr in The Sunday Times: Hadley is far more at home among herbaceous borders than in the “pot-smoking” milieu of Nicky and his friends. Her depictions of the Swinging Sixties rarely rise above cliché – and “when she tries to capture the life of a black nurse whom Phyllis befriends, the writing becomes laboured”. You sense Hadley “itching to get back to the bourgeois suburbs” – and as this disappointing novel progressed, I wished I was back there with her.

Jonathan Cape 320pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99

Free Love
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

Recommended

A weekend in Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne Bridge and the River Tyne in Newcastle
The big trip

A weekend in Newcastle upon Tyne

Properties of the week: dreamy Italian homes for under €1m
Six gorgeous homes
The wish list

Properties of the week: dreamy Italian homes for under €1m

Nato’s renaissance: how the world’s most powerful military alliance has taken centre stage
Long table of men at Nato summit
In Depth

Nato’s renaissance: how the world’s most powerful military alliance has taken centre stage

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?
Students protest anti-abortion measures
Talking point

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?

Popular articles

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

Inside Adelaide Cottage: the guesthouse tipped to be Prince William and Kate’s new home
William and Kate
In Depth

Inside Adelaide Cottage: the guesthouse tipped to be Prince William and Kate’s new home

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths
Vladimir Putin has previously deployed ‘extreme measures’ to crush opposition
Why we’re talking about . . .

The mysterious Russian oligarch deaths

The Week Footer Banner