Ordinary People by Diana Evans
This week's LWLBookclub read has been chosen and guest reviewed by by Alice-Azania Jarvis - acting deputy editor at ES Magazine, columnist at Evening Standard, and host of the Sunday Salon literary salon at The Ned.
Ordinary People opens at a moment of supreme optimism. It’s 2008 and Barack Obama has just been elected. Melissa and Michael are at a house party in Brixton. Jay Z, Kriss Kross and Amy Winehouse are on the stereo, the men wear “good moods and just-so trainers”, the women “varying degrees of fake hair, their curls, their tresses, their long straight manes trailing down their backs…like so many Beyoncés”.
But Melissa and Michael – once a golden couple – are living in a steady state of discontent. It is a one that will be familiar to many of a certain age: since their first explosive courtship, 13 years, two children, a mouse-infested house and countless frustrated ambitions have put paid to romance. Texts have been reduced to the utilitarian: “Bog roll pls”.
Evans, who won the Orange New Writers Prize in 2005 for her debut 26a, has a deft eye for social observation. Ordinary People – her third book (The Wonder was published in 2009) feels at once fresh and familiar, laced as it is with on-point descriptions of the London commute, tense dinners, and doomed sex. Ultimately it tells that most poignant tale: of love, once intense, now faded to almost-naught.
As we witness the gradual disintegration of Melissa and Michael’s relationship into a “rubble of domesticity” so their home start to fall apart around them. Melissa becomes convinced that it is haunted, and poisoning her daughter. But if this sounds bleak, don’t be fooled. There is humour here too – as well as a feast of musical references – and Evans’ touch is too light for Ordinary People to be anything other than sharp, witty, engaging and true.
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The Sunday Salon is an intimate monthly literary event championing female authors. Each month Alice-Azania Jarvis interviews a leading female writer about her work, writing process, success and path to publication. Guests have included Elizabeth Day, Clemency Burton-Hill, Otegha Uwagba, Nell Stevens and Laura Freeman.