Ordinary People is a wonderfully lyrical and instantly engaging story about black families, relationships, motherhood and friendship. It’s also a little celebration of London, especially the South East and Crystal Palace – which happens to be my part of London – so it was lovely reading about places I recognise.
(On a random side note – a book that is in no way similar but I thought about while reading this was The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal as it is set just as the Great Exhibition is being created, the origins of Crystal Palace, which are talked about in this book.)
Opening sentence: To celebrate Obama’s election, the Wiley brothers threw a party at their house in Crystal Palace.
So, onto the story. Michael and Melissa Pitt are an enviable couple. Married with two children, we meet them as their relationship is at a tipping point. Day to day life is eroding passion – as showcased by this wonderful sentence:
Passion, at its most fierce, does not liaise with toothpaste.
Their friends, Damian and Stephanie are the other couple the story focuses on and their lives become intricately linked.
It’s the nuanced way that Diana Evans talks about relationships and motherhood that is so great here. Little light bulb moments were happening as I read, her way with words almost sees inside you.
‘The greatest challenge in life is not to die before we die,’ Melissa said. ‘I read that somewhere. It happens to a lot of people.’
I could particularly relate to the motherhood struggles: the horror of going to baby classes, planning to get work done when the baby sleeps and then the frustration when baby inevitably does not sleep and the loneliness and loss of self are all touched on here. It’s refreshing to see this version of motherhood in a novel.
Ordinary People also explores London’s multiculturalism and what its like to be black living in London. How elements of heritage and culture filter through to how people feel they should behave or how they are judged by others is explored through the characters.
The way Ordinary People interweaves the narratives and lives of the characters was a delight to read and I loved how it was packed full of insightful observations about human nature. And yes, the title is a direct reference to the John Legend song that’s probably running through your head right now. You’ll just have to pick up this brilliant book to find out why.
- Published by Vintage March 2019;
- 326 pages;
- My rating: