The kiss that transformed the housewife

The kiss that transformed the housewife

We are in 1967, in a family home on the outskirts of London. Without really knowing how, during a dinner, Phyllis, an attractive housewife in her forties, ends up kissing Nicky, the son of a nice couple, a young anti-establishment journalist with whom she will soon escape to her London apartment, full of bohemians and emigrants. Free love (Sexto Piso / Edicions de 1984), the eighth novel by British writer Tessa Hadley (Bristol, 1956), reflects the enormous changes in people’s private lives caused by the costume revolution in the 1960s. Despite having lived in Cardiff for three decades, writing this book recalled his years in London, both those of his childhood and those of his youth: “I remembered all the memories, the furniture, the language, the food, the fashion, art, smells, music … “

Anglo-Saxon critics compare Hadley (they can choose) with authors such as Elena Ferrante, Alice Munro or Zadie Smith, for the psychological subtlety with which she deals with issues such as anxiety, desire, creativity or bourgeois life. We could also say that the first part of the novel (bourgeois life) is more reminiscent of Henry James; and the second (mixture of private life and political commitment), more to Doris Lessing.

“The question that arises is what is the price to pay to follow our passions”

“I tell how a young woman, intelligent but inexperienced, develops in the suburbs of London in the 60s. Her family is old-fashioned, the great social change takes place and she, who was happy with her life, is not mistreated at all, she is shaken from the new world in a brutal way, from the kiss with the boy. I reflect the contrast between two worlds, her social change, from her life as a suburban bourgeoisie to the Beatles, to long hair, to artists, to the revolutionary left … “

Two worlds symbolized by her two men, her husband Roger and young Nick. “I hope it shows that the book doesn’t take sides with any of them, I made Roger interesting and empathetic, he’s a hero, socialist but realistic and therefore pessimistic, skeptical, he works hard even when things go wrong. The young man is different, he sees the world as a ridiculous and horrible, corrupt spectacle, and he doesn’t want to get involved in the system ”.

The novel drinks from some personal memories: “My parents were young in the 60s, he was a teacher but also an excellent jazz trumpeter. My mother, an old-fashioned housewife who belatedly turned out to be a great painter. The liberation of customs has allowed many people to resume their youth hobbies “.

Nick starts to be very naïve, “he shouldn’t know how things work, he’s idealistic and crazy. But, over the course of the novel, he grows up, having an affair with an elderly woman, he becomes more and more realistic.

Young people on a London street in the 1960s

Young people on a London street in the 1960s


The novel raises a classic theme: Is the social system in contradiction with the passion of love? “The 19th century marriage contract was a bondage,” replies Hadley, “an enormously tight corset that gave rise to Anna Karenina, Mrs. Bovary and other great novels, but in the second half of the twentieth century the clauses of that contract changed. Adultery is normalized. My book is meant to be an ironic look at the woman who blames herself more than a global vision. The question she poses to herself, to the reader and to anyone else is what is the price to pay for following our passions “.

Another question that interests him is “following these crazy young people who are becoming adults, have a respectable life, become parents and then control their children, I find it a fascinating process. The feeling of overprotection often stems from an unacknowledged jealousy of having a life of its own.

Is Phyllis doing the right thing? “It depends on each reader. My mother doesn’t think, that she is making a big mistake in pursuing a happy life, that she is stupid because relationships don’t last. “

Considered experimentalist for her previous works, or at least daring in her breaking of timelines, here Hadley appears to us as a classical author, with a chronological sequence of events and serial elements. “Life is like a soap opera sometimes, I really enjoyed those twists.”

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Writer Tessa Hadley

A highly conversational novel, he admits he enjoyed “these people’s conversations, I was very concerned about being credible about what their discussions were at the table. They were intelligent and skeptical, inspiring men and women, arguing naively but with elevation on issues such as peace or love.

She is a late author herself, since she started publishing at the age of 46. “It took me some time to know what I meant and how, before I read a lot, I traveled inside and practiced”.