BY CLARE CHAMBERS
‘Small Pleasures’ by Clare Chambers was Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 and is a bitter sweet novel set in post war Suburbia and a popular book club choice.
The novel opens with a newspaper cutting describing a train crash report in December 1957. It then rewinds back to the summer of the same year when the reader is introduced to Jean Swinney’s story. She is a features editor on a local paper with a curious new brief to investigate a reader’s letter from Gretchen Tilbury who claims her daughter, Margaret, is the result of a virgin birth. Up until this point Jean appears disappointed with her own life. She is single, in her late thirties and living with her mother trapped in a life of duty and the mundanities of life. The reader quickly observes her appreciation of small pleasures, her favourite being enjoying a cigarette alone at home whilst her mother is otherwise preoccupied washing her hair.
The investigation for this new feature is an exciting new chapter for Jean. It allows her to get close to the Tilbury family who have agreed to a series of medical tests to prove the virgin birth. Very quickly Jean’s life turns around as she spends more time with the Tilburys as well as meeting Gretchen’s friends from childhood who she met in a nursing home whilst being treated for rheumatoid arthritis. Suddenly friendship, love and happiness all seem real possibilities. This is an easy read with some clever revelations, unexpected twists and compassionate observations on life.
If you enjoyed ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ or ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ this touching and gently humorous novel is in the same genre.