Looking back in hindsight, I probably went into this book expecting not to like it. Even the title has a way of unintentionally lowering your expectations. What could be exciting or enjoyable about reading about a bunch of people living out their “ordinary” lives? Well, I can admit that I am pleasantly surprised and did enjoy this novel. Having said that, I don’t think it will be for everybody.
A simple description of the narrative is that it’s about two couples, one married, one not. Both have kids and both have problems. However, it is so much more. It’s about relationships and how they change when kids come into the picture. It’s about waning love, and the loss of the intensity that ultimately arrives with time. It’s about how we view ourselves as opposed to how others view us. To their friends, Melissa and Michael are the perfect couple and yet we, the reader, know they are not. It is about the complex relationship between two people and how that relationship changes, morphs, builds, collapses, over time. Stephanie and Damian have got to a point where they manoeuvre themselves so that they are never in the same room together. Over time the relationship is hit with many problems and every individual addresses these problems in their own individual way. Should a person put themselves first and leave the relationship? Whatever decision is made causes many other problems to come into existence, and lives are changed. Will it be better for the children or worse? The title of the book is Ordinary People, but these complex relationships and lives are anything but.
The problems for the characters are very real and, human nature being what it is, the characters tend to magnify their own problems and forget about everybody else.
Michael, who has not yet married Melissa, is feeling that the passion and flair has somehow escaped his relationship with Melissa and yearns for the fiery spontaneity that it used to contain. Melissa also feels this loss, but for her it is more about the loss of her career, her individuality. She feels she is now chained to motherhood, with Michael barely helping at all.
Damien who has just lost his father is feeling more and more isolated from Stephanie with each day and cannot seem to find an answer. Of all the four major characters, Stephanie is the least developed, not really adding much to the narrative at all.
The writing is excellent and towards the end of the book there is a great part where Melisa believes that the house they have bought is haunted and is slowly indelibly destroying her daughter. It’s a great change of pace to the narrative. Is the house haunted?
I enjoyed this book, I loved the characters, I loved the writing and I loved the music, which actually plays an integral role to the narrative, 3.5 Stars.
Diana Evans is a British author of Nigerian and English descent. Her bestselling novel, 26a, won the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers and the British Book Awards deciBel Writer of the Year prize. It was also shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel, the Guardian First Book, the Commonwealth Best First Book and the Times/Southbank Show Breakthrough awards, and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Wonder, is currently under option for TV dramatisation. She is a former dancer, and as a journalist and critic has contributed to among others Marie Claire, the Independent, the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, Financial Times and Harper’s Bazaar. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and was a Royal Literary Fellow at the London College of Fashion and the University of Kent. Ordinary People is her third novel, and received an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts Award. She lives in London.
There is a wonderful interview with Evans at The Guardian.