The long list for the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2019 has been released for a while now and everyone has their reading lists sorted. When I saw the list released, I immediately wanted to read Ordinary People by Diana Evans. And, my God, what an extraordinary book.
I have seen this book all over social media. From Elizabeth Day to Pandora Sykes and more, this book is loved. And that love has blossomed even more after the long-list was announced. So, I immediately ordered myself a copy (I ordered the hardback as I’m more of a fan of hardbacks generally – but the paperback cover is just gorgeous!) and right from the first page, I was hooked. So, what’s it all about? Here’s the blurb:
South London, 2008. Two couples find themselves at a moment of reckoning, on the brink of acceptance or revolution.
Melissa has a new baby and doesn’t want to let it change her but, in the crooked walls of a narrow Victorian terrace, she begins to disappear. Michael, growing daily more accustomed to his commute, still loves Melissa but can’t quite get close enough to her to stay faithful.
Meanwhile out in the suburbs, Stephanie is happy with Damian and their three children, but the death of Damian’s father has thrown him into crisis – or is it something, or someone, else?
Are they all just in the wrong place? Are any of them prepared to take the leap?
Set against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s historic election victory, Ordinary People is an intimate, immersive study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and ageing, and the fragile architecture of love. With its distinctive prose and irresistible soundtrack, it is the story of our lives, and those moments that threaten to unravel us.
Sounds good, right? I am new to Evans’ writing but right from the start, I was in awe of her writing. It is lyrical, magical, witty, profound, emotional, and hilarious too. One of the main things I loved about this book is that it isn’t patronising. Her writing is rooted in reality and rooted in truth. I find in novels there can often be a lot of cliches, especially when centred around a couple. But there is none of that in this novel. Even the sex scenes are not cheesy and patronising. And this is due to the strength of Evans’ characters and her characters. The characters of Melissa, Michael, Damien, Stephanie, Ria, Hazel and more, feel so real. They feel like your friends, family members, neighbours. The dialogue flows easily and Evans never misses a beat.
I think my favourite character has to be Melissa. I loved the way Evans crafted this character – I think she did it so brilliantly and captured Melissa’s voice to perfection. But Evans does this with all of her characters in this book. I loved, loved, loved Ria, Michael and Melissa’s daughter. Her dialogue was hilarious and it still makes me laugh now just thinking about it. There are some big themes at play in this novel: relationships, marriage, identity, gender, expectations of women (and men too), motherhood, grief, the question of is: are you/us the one? How relationships (and marriage) develop, about race, community and so much more.
I think this book has had a lot of slack and a lot of negative reviews. I think it’s a book that people will think is boring/too slow but I loved the book for that. It wasn’t something with a massive plot, it’s more about normal life with ordinary people and a wonderful exploration of relationships and overall, identity. Evans’ writing is lyrical, beautifully constructed, wonderfully observed and very poignant. There are certain parts of the book that really tugs on the heart strings. These moments, where Evans, zooms out of Melissa and Michael and to the wider community overall, is incredibly moving and powerful.
Overall, this novel is an intimate portrait of relationships, marriage, identity, gender, motherhood, community and a love letter to London with a gorgeous and addictive soundtrack (there’s a playlist on Spotify with all the songs mentioned in the book!), beautiful and lyrical prose and so much more. I think this has a great chance of winning the Women’s Prize overall as it really touched me and I think is a timely book. I loved every word.
Also, I dare you, after reading it, to try and get the song ‘Ordinary People’ out of your head… it’s impossible. Also, I was in London recently and sat in a Pret and at the corner of my eye I saw a couple with a baby and I turned and they immediately reminded me so much of Michael and Melissa, it was crazy.
Have you read Ordinary People yet? What did you think of it? Do you think it could win the Women’s Prize this year? Let me know in the comments!