Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Published by Chatto & Windus, 2018
My rating: ⭐ ⭐
This book is perfectly fine, and though reading it was never a chore for me (as it seems to have been for some others), it never really grabbed me either. The set-up has promise, Evans introducing us to two black couples living in the UK during the time of Obama’s election win. But despite the theme of contemporary race relations running throughout the background of the novel, it focusses far more on disintegrating relationships, and the kind of pressure that comes with getting married and having children. From this angle, I don’t think the book offers anything particularly new to an already saturated genre, nor do the plot or characters develop in a fresh or engaging way.
Evans’ prose is lovely at times, and there are some great passages in here, in which she shares shrewd observations on gender, race, relationships, grief, and parenthood. Indeed, the book is at its best when it details a character’s struggles to hold on to their sense of self whilst dealing with the pitfalls of everyday life. However, I do think she has a tendency to over explain things; a classic example of telling rather than showing. This lends the book a meandering quality, and serves to slow down the pace considerably.
There’s also a supernatural thread that looms over the whole thing, one of the characters convinced that her house is haunted. It’s subtle at first, but it swells towards the climax. Though I found it intriguing, it feels completely out of place within the context of the rest of the story. By the end, it fizzles out, dismissed in a single line that would be easy to miss. I can only imagine that the character’s desire to escape the house itself was supposed to be a metaphor for her stifling relationship, but the tangent offers no obvious narrative or thematic gain, and it left me with more questions than answers as to why it was included in the novel.
The real trouble is, despite having just finished the book, I would already struggle to tell someone what happens in it, a combination of the plot never really going anywhere; its themes not being properly capitalised on; and its general failure to hold my interest as a result.
I don’t doubt this will work considerably better for other readers. Namely, those in search of a slow, quiet, and introspective snapshot of modern relationships. It’s just not my cup of tea. That said, it’s good to push beyond your comfort zone every now and then, and I was happy to tick off another read from the Women’s Prize longlist with this one.
You can pick up a copy of Ordinary People from Book Depository by clicking here.