Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Cover of Ordinary People

I loved this. I found it while scouting through the Women’s Prize lists which are always a good source of things to read even if I don’t hit it off with every book that makes it onto their lists. The book starts off with a party for Obama’s first election victory which seems like yesterday and sometime deep in history all at the same time, but it’s good to remember how exciting that victory felt at the time even for those of us a long way from America.

Whilst it’s billed as the story of two couples, it’s really about Melissa, at home with her children, a school age daughter and a newborn, freelancing where she used to be an employee, wondering about her status as a mother rather than just being herself, not sure that the terrace house she dreamed of is better than what she had before. Opening with the Obama victory grounds the book in time and you know the financial crisis of 2008 is there in the background. Whilst I didn’t feel any of the other characters were badly fleshed out, and there were a few great background characters, I did feel they were all made how they were to compare and contrast with Melissa. In the beginning the book felt like it might become a family saga kind of a thing but it was more a case that a wide angle view was shown before zooming in on the central character, which was also a good device to show her feelings of something like claustrophobia.

It took me a long time to realise that nearly all of the characters were black, I wasn’t sure whether that was a deliberate move by the author or just showing up my own biases and/or the way my own brain isn’t particularly picture based. There were lots of music references, I suspect most of those went over my head but I liked the inclusion of an appendix with them all in. While reading it I struggled to remember the rather forgettable title of this book! Though I’ve read Real People and I’ve read Normal People, so I wonder how many other variations on that there are out there as book titles. Given that I’ve liked all of those books maybe I should go looking for them?

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

Read on October 24, 2020

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