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Small Pleasures

Narrated by: Karen Cass
Length: 9 hrs and 58 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (32 ratings)

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Summary

1957, South-East suburbs of London.

Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and - on the brink of 40 - living a limited existence with her truculent mother: a small life from which there is no likelihood of escape.

When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. But the more Jean investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen is now a friend and her quirky and charming daughter, Margaret, a sort of surrogate child. And Jean doesn't mean to fall in love with Gretchen's husband, Howard, but Howard surprises her with his dry wit, his intelligence and his kindness - and when she does fall, she falls hard. 

But he is married and to her friend - who is also the subject of the story she is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. And yet Jean cannot bring herself to discard the chance of finally having a taste of happiness. But there will be a price to pay - and it will be unbearable.

©2020 Clare Chambers (P)2020 Orion Publishing Group

Critic reviews

"The 21st century heir to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor. Small Pleasures is both gripping and a huge delight." (Amanda Craig, author of The Lie of the Land) 

"The glorious literary equivalent of pulling the duvet over your head. If you admire Tessa Hadley or Anne Tyler (and there are shades of Barbara Pym too), then this is one for you." (Bookseller, Book of the Month) 

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Poignant, thoughtful & beautifully crafted

I loved this gentle, compassionate story with a heart-stopping end which I won't spoil. Clare Chambers has done careful research on the late 1950s when the novel is set with details of relationships, the lives of women, the food, jobs, trains, clothes etc meticulously woven into a completely successful re-creation of that time which she herself is too young to have experienced as an adult. It's a great achievement.

The stories are cleverly woven together. Jean is near enough 40, living with her tiresome, dependent, querulous mother who dominates her daughter's life. Jean works for a newspaper mainly churning out recipes and household economy hints but is asked to investigate the story of a woman called Gretchen who claims that her 10year-old daughter Margaret was the result of a virgin birth. Jean and Gretchen become unlikely friends, along with little Margaret for whom Jean buys a rabbit. Gretchen's husband Harold, a quiet modest man, accepts Margaret as a daughter, and he too becomes a significant friend and Jean learns the true state of his marriage.

As time passes. Jean and Harold are in love and it seems that life could blossom for them both even if there are obstacles to overcome. This love is detailed with infinite tenderness and compassion as the plot become increasingly complex and we never know quite what will happen - and certainly never guess what does happen. Jean untangles many stories and finds the truth about the virgin birth...

I can't give more away for fear of spoiling one of the most enjoyable, highly original, heart-warming and heart-breaking new novels I've read (or listened to) for a long while. It's also read with exactly the right tone which enriches the story.

Just download it and bury all your worries as you listen, entranced!

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Realistic characters and a fresh plot

I really wanted to know what would happen next! The characters are plausible and relatable: the suburban context familiar. There was a slight tension between the author's modern take on love and life and my understanding of 50's Britain but this really provided the intrigue.
The narration was a little distracting ; her male voices sounded like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk but managed to get over that znd yo really enjoy this story.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Couldn't stop listening.

I loved this book with its beautifully drawn characters and well observed, sad, often funny writing. I also appreciated the very thorough research that the author had done especially as I have lived in the area where the novel is set and am old enough to remember the 1950s.

1 person found this helpful