Small Pleasures, Clare Chambers ( Jan 2022)
Reviewed by our Bookclub group January 2022
It’s probably a genetic hazard, that with a book club predominately populated by women, that our choices may tend towards the female led fiction. We try (!) to address the balance in genre and author, but on this occasion there is no doubting the wholly female driven narrative. It is a domestic drama, in its detail and sensitivity.
That apology aside ( just don’t pass it on to your other half), it is a very well imagined, researched and written novel. The scores across the board were high for this book, perhaps one of the most popular we have read. Only one shadow trails across the accolades … some of us could have done without the shocker twist at the end, preferring our romances to have an uplifting and happy ending.
So, the ‘small pleasures’ are the ones which we have to rely on, as everything else in life can be unexpected and fragile. That is the recurring message, and we all enjoyed the many small details throughout the book : the household hints, the descriptions of life in the 1950’s between fashion, decor, food and the working and domestic situation for many women. It was packed with fascinating detail and a wry humour, written with satisfying visual and sensory depth.
The premise of the story takes a few factual incidents and builds a convincing ( enough) narrative around them, a clever idea and one which deals off our scepticism at virgin births. Chamber’s characters are great portraits of engaging people - although we considered at length whether Gretchen was self serving and manipulative, or simply conflicted and a survivor of her difficult circumstances - this in itself shows what complexity she has written into the character. Jean was honest and vulnerable, a protagonist that we all wanted to root for and with a painfully accurate relationship with her elderly and needy mother.
Our conversation covered a lot of related topics - postwar life, mental illness, early feminism, society’s expectations of women … it was a book that on discussion uncovered more layers of complexity, whilst being an easy and enjoyable read - a win / win for a bookclub book. But we’re probably ready for something darker again !