A woman turns her life upside down and feels the allure of swinging London in this poignant tale of mid-life desire Roger Fischer, the civil servant husband in Tessa Hadley’s 1960s domestic drama Free Love, is a rather circumspect creature. In a conversation with his wife, Phyllis, the protagonist of Hadley’s eighth novel, the couple discuss Roger’s recent work. He has been preparing documents about security in the Middle East. Phyllis offers dutiful but uninformed optimism about the prospects for that troubled region. Roger responds: “I probably come down on the side of not hoping too much. It’s a botched old civilisation, you know. Rather imperfect.” Free Love initially purports to be a romantic novel, imagining a new kind of existence for Phyllis in opposition to the forces of Roger’s stiff-upper-lipped judiciousness. What might it mean to refuse the lot one has been assigned? What will happen if wild desires and aspirations are allowed to blossom? And how does it feel to be living a conventional life so close to the thrilling allure of swinging London, “a world turned upside down”, where such a sense of the possible was being embraced?
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