While London comes alive with the new youth revolution in 1967, 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 20-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.
Free Love, is smartly situated in [a] fusion of defiance and regret, liberation and attachment ... Hadley alludes to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, but her story cuts its own path ... Hadley writes, 'Phyllis hadn’t known that the young had this power, to reduce the present of the middle-aged to rubble.' That sounds like witty hyperbole, and it is, but it’s also an intimation of the demolition that’s coming. Fans of Hadley’s exquisitely written novels know that nothing is accidental or wasted ... Delightful as [the] climactic opening is, the real triumph of Hadley’s novel stems from her judicious portrayal of what happens next.
Her 2015 novel The Past is her masterpiece...not least in her depiction of the inner worlds of children, but her present novel, Free Love, approaches that work’s agility in capturing thought and feeling in flight ... Ms. Hadley perfectly captures this aspect of the ’60s, the urgency of wanting to join the paraded mystique and collective individuality of the beautiful people ... a penetrating, extraordinarily subtle novel about an unsubtle era. From a distance, its culture may seem to have been all surface: all sex, pot, fancy dress and political righteousness, but Ms. Hadley shows how it worked its changes into the lives and feelings of a handful of superbly conjured individuals.
In her eighth novel, [Hadley] weaves a plot that ensnares multiple generations and raises timeless questions about the risks worth taking for self-fulfillment ... Hadley, who so brilliantly captures her characters' every twinge of emotion, is also drawn to innovative structures that highlight how the past extends in unexpected ways into the future, with often serious repercussions ... Free Love runs along a more straightforwardedly chronological timeline ... It's a recursive story in which apples don't fall far from trees and children unwittingly repeat the sins of their parents — or mutations of those sins. Jumps in time and between various characters lend the narrative the structure of a handheld fan whose folded panels each reveal different crucial bits of information ... Hadley efficiently sets the scene and demonstrates her keen sense of place ... Tightly constructed ... Free Love revisits several common literary tropes, including the runaway wife, December-May and May-December relationships, and secrets that come back to bite. But with its carefully wrought contrasts between women with the guts 'to be shameless, careless, frank' versus one who, decades earlier, was not, Free Love is a fresh, moving evocation of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.