12 May / Free Love by Tessa Hadley [in Booklist]
Meet Phyllis Fischer – she prefers Phyl – the latest protagonist of British auteur Tessa Hadley, who so brilliantly writes of familial relationships often facing significant change, possibly collapse. English actor Abigail Thaw, who voiced Hadley’s Late in the Day (2019), delivers another resounding performance; that this is only Thaw’s third audiobook is no indication of her impressive prowess.
In 1967 England, an easy train ride from London, 40-year-old Phyl shares a seemingly contented life with her civil-servant husband Roger; their prickly teen, Colette; and still-affectionate Hughie. One evening, Nicky, the young-adult son of a family friend arrives for dinner, which begins awkwardly, continues tediously, then ends with a shocking kiss that will upend the Fischer family forever. Suddenly, Phyl and Nicky are lovers and Phyl deserts everything familiar, embarking on an odyssey of self-discovery.
Thaw expertly ciphers Phyl’s metamorphosis from ideal wife to lovesick runaway to independent single woman. While Phyl clearly commands the spotlight, Thaw ensures each character is uniquely convincing, smoothly adapting to gender, age, even various levels of skeezy. Thaw is particularly affecting as disdainfully curious but surprisingly adaptable Colette, rightfully indignant nurse Barbara, and “real artist” Paul. Once more, Hadley and Thaw prove ideally paired – hopefully a sign for more collaborations to come.