Thursday 29 August 2019

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Ordinary People by Diana Evans found its way onto my TBR pile thanks to its shortlisting in this year's Women's Prize.

Evan's is quite magnificent in describing the daily grind of marital malaise for thirty-something's. We see two couples who have settled down with the one they happened to be sleeping with in their late twenties. They had lots of giddy love feels, hot sex and lots of fun and decided to have babies and/or get married.

However to those of us (the readers), looking in from the outside, we're not so sure this will work out. We're not so sure that the great sex and all that love/lust will translate into actual likes and a lifetime of compromise and working stuff out together. We're not so sure they share enough in common including parenting styles and interests. Like most young people, they actually haven't thought about what it might be like to really get old together.

The angst is real. They're pulled in different directions by different desires and beliefs. So many of these beliefs and desires come from external sources - movies, social media, advertising - that tells them they should be living a certain type of life, and loving it all the time. They love their kids, but it doesn't feel like enough.

Part of being in one's thirties is about coming to terms with the disconnect between the imagined or the social media show and the real world we actually live in. The compromises we all have to make, the ordinariness of real life, the drudgery that defines so much of adulthood with kids. Until we have that ah-ha moment.

For some of us it's a sudden, decisive change that often catches us by surprise; and for some its a more gradual, dawning realisation. However it comes to you, it's the sign that you've matured into the next phase of adulthood. And it's such a relief when you get there.

This is a story about four people on the edge of that moment.

I can see why this story was shortlisted for the Women's Prize but I can also see why it didn't win. The beginning was tremendous, extraordinary even. Evans explored the emotional lives of her four protagonists in a believable, sympathetic manner. But the ending veered off into a weird group holiday to Spain, with some gothic ghost story elements thrown in for good measure. I thought this was going to lead to a post-natal depression discussion, but it just fizzled out into nothing in the end. There was also a rather long bow drawn between the nearby decaying Crystal Palace and human relationships. And all that Michael Jackson reverence at the end was just weird given the turn his real life story took in recent times. Perhaps she was trying to say that even black heroes can fail the human decency test?

The bonus play script at the end, was a fun look at urban myths, what is real and what is fake. But by this point I was quite confused about Evans' message or purpose and felt that she had tried to include too many things all at once.

The very London setting with all its multi-layered socio-economic and political undercurrents was superbly realised. I loved the naturalness & ordinariness of reading about black middle class families.   I see by reading a few other reviews, that not everyone was as disappointed with the end as I was, so don’t take my word for it; read it yourself and make up your own mind.

Favourite Character: All the adults were pretty annoying by the end and I just wanted to shake them (in that same way that I'm sure my parents wanted to shake me at the same age)! Young Ria, however, was delightful with her curiosity, innocence and independence.

Favourite Quote: favourite by default - it was the only sentence I underlined in the whole book,
Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low mental skies, never when one is happy.

Favourite or Forget: I enjoyed this enough to pass on to Mr Books to have a go at too.

  • Spotify playlist created by Evans available to listen to as you read. Highly recommended.
  • One of the New Yorker best books of the year 2018.
  • Shortlisted for the Women's Prize, Rathbones Folio Prize and Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

Book 21 of 20 Books of Summer Winter

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