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Ordinary People

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Diana Evans, author of the prize-winning 26a, returns with an intimate portrait of London, an exploration of modern relationships and black identity, and that mid-life moment when a gap emerges between who we think we are and who we are becoming.

Melissa and Michael, a couple of thirteen years, have taken up residence in a crooked house in the south of the city, a new baby making them a family of four. Feeling defined solely by motherhood, Melissa's need to reclaim her identity is spilling into resentment at her partner and a growing fear that something unnatural is living in their home. Her solace in her Nigerian mother's stews and spells only infuriates Michael, who desperately misses the excitement of their lives before children.

Further south, in the suburbs, Damian and Stephanie enter a year of marital disquiet. Damian's Trinidadian political activist father has died, and he finds himself adrift and hungering for the city--just as his admiration for Stephanie's wholesome aspirations and white middle class upbringing begin to feel more like a trap than an escape. With the election of Barack Obama posing a distant perfection to which modern couples might aspire, these two ordinary partnerships collide and conjoin in a building chaos born from their extraordinary desires.

Ordinary People is an intimate, immersive study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and aging, and the fragile architecture of love. With its distinctive prose and addictive soundtrack, it is the story of our lives, and those moments that threaten to unravel us.

329 pages, Hardcover

First published April 5, 2018

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About the author

Diana Evans

25 books294 followers
Diana Evans was born and brought up in London. Her bestselling debut novel, 26a, won the inaugural Orange Award for New Writers and the British Book Awards deciBel Writer of the Year prize. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel, the Guardian First Book, the Commonwealth Best First Book and the Times/Southbank Show Breakthrough awards, and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Wonder, was also published to critical acclaim, described by The Times as ‘the most dazzling depiction of the world of dance since Ballet Shoes‘. Evans was nominated for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction for her third novel, Ordinary People, which was a New Yorker, New Statesman and Financial Times book of the year, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, and won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature. Her fourth novel, A House for Alice, is the highly acclaimed follow-up, for which she was again shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. Evans is a former dancer, and her journalism, criticism and essays appear in among others Time Magazine, Vogue, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Review of Books and Harper’s Bazaar. She has been an associate lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. www.diana-evans.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 961 reviews
Profile Image for Katie B.
1,351 reviews3,006 followers
September 10, 2018
I had so much trouble with this one. I started it, read a few chapters, and put it down and hoped if I let a little time pass I could maybe get into it. But clearing my head and rereading the beginning didn't change my feelings. Sometimes there's books that you just don't connect with and this is certainly one of them for me. I really wanted to support this one as there just isn't a whole lot of books on the market featuring middle-aged black people dealing with married life, but I ended up feeling bored for most of the book. Hopefully other readers will find something to love about the book, but this one just wasn't for me.

I won a free advance copy of this book in a giveaway but was under no obligation to post a review. All views expressed are my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
August 10, 2018
2.5 Stars

“It used to be so natural (Used to be)
To talk about forever
But used-to-be's don't count anymore
They just lay on the floor 'til we sweep them away

”And baby, I remember
All the things you taught me

“I learned how to laugh
And I learned how to cry

“Well I learned how to love
And I learned how to lie

“So you'd think I could learn
How to tell you goodbye

“You don't bring me flowers anymore”

-- You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond, Songwriters: Alan Bergman / Marilyn Bergman / Neil Diamond

Ordinary people living in London, with ordinary problems, this story centers on two black couples, and while there are others, this is primarily their story.

Melissa and Michael, who have two children, whose love life has lost all of its initial glow and sparkle. Michael’s best friend is Damian.

Stephanie and Damian are the other main couple, who primarily seem there to serve as a vehicle to hear each side of the story of Melissa and Michael and their deteriorating marriage, and partly to add another dimension to the story.

”They were on the far side of youth, at a moment in their lives when the gradual descent into age was beginning to appear, the quickening of time, the mounting of the years. They were insisting on their youth. They were carrying it with both hands.”

There’s also an additional, supernatural, element to this novel, which seemed to me to serve no real purpose except, perhaps, to push Michael and Melissa further apart as Melissa insists that the house is possessed and Michael continues to try to ignore her insistence of this as a fact. In the beginning, this just seemed out of place, a quirk she had, where he seems to believe she invented it to get him to sell the house and move, but eventually it ramps into a somewhat bizarre storyline that reaches a climax but, eventually, fizzles out. As though it were meant to add something to this story filled with ordinary days and ordinary people where so little really happens, excluding infidelity.

This begins with the election of Barack Obama, and concludes, around the time of the death of Michael Jackson, and frequently mentioning John Legend songs, along with other pop culture references of the era, but the song that came to me (not that I don't love John Legend) was a duet my mother used to play (all too frequently) in the car on drives, with Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond singing “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” – the back and forth of the complaints in this story, the “you don’t do this” and the “you don’t do that!” Tit for tat, but broken hearts, all the same.

While there are occasionally some lovely, noteworthy passages, the writing – the story - in general, suffered (for me) from too much telling, not enough showing. As a result, this story, more often than not, felt like it was crawling at a never-ending pace for me.

”It's only words, and words are all I have
To take your heart away”

-- Words, Bee Gees, Songwriters: Barry Gibb / Maurice Ernest Gibb / Robin Hugh Gibb

Pub Date: 11 SEP 2018

Many thanks for the ARC provided by W.W. Norton & Company / Liveright
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews926 followers
April 4, 2019
Ordinary People is an unassuming book in many ways, right down to a title that arguably puts a wall up and makes the reader ask right off the bat 'why should I care?' Diana Evans answers that question over the course of this slow paced yet incisive story that chronicles two disintegrating relationships in 2008 London. We follow two couples: Melissa and Michael, and Damian and Stephanie; one couple is married and one is not, though both have children and are each struggling in their own way with their domestic lives which have become increasingly loveless over the years.

At its core, Ordinary People is concerned with the question of how children fundamentally alter a relationship. "How much of yourself do you get to keep?" Melissa asks Stephanie in an exchange where the self-proclaimed feminist and the content housewife confront one another about their conflicting ideologies. Melissa, stifled by the mere thought of marriage, equates domesticity with failure, and she struggles more and more as she ages to submit to her role as a sort-of-wife and mother. Through some especially well-executed third person omniscient narration we do hear the thoughts and concerns of each of these four characters, but Melissa's voice remains the most central; her burdens feel the most salient. The tension between Melissa and Michael is rendered brilliantly; Michael's anxieties as a black man assimilating to the corporate world are significant, but Melissa's perception of Michael as a representation of the patriarchy looms even larger. "... women and men, we've all been given this old script and don't know how to let go of it. It seems indestructible, almost. We're stuck. We're all stuck. We haven't moved forwards at all in some ways. Society makes patriarchs of decent men."

There's an ambiguously supernatural thread that runs through the novel as well, as Melissa believes that her and Michael's house is haunted, and that the presence is destroying their daughter (it's not insignificant that their son remains unaffected). Whether this element is metaphorical or literal is a balancing act that Evans plays with throughout the novel, and I ultimately found its thematic resonance satisfying. This is a quiet, internal book, and the supernatural element is no different - this isn't the sort of book you should pick up if you're expecting fireworks; it just kind of simmers and cools toward the end, but not in an anticlimactic way.

I only picked this up as it was longlisted for the Women's Prize, and it naturally compares itself to two other books on the list: An American Marriage and Normal People. All three novels focus on modern-day relationships, and each of them has a political backdrop that mainly serves to contextualize the characters' struggles. I found Evans' prose style more comparable to Rooney's than Jones' - both Evans and Rooney have a style that feels smooth and simple on the surface while also providing an impressive amount of insight into the characters' interior lives. Though Ordinary People and An American Marriage are obviously united in focusing on black protagonists and black relationships, giving each novel a sort of heft that Normal People arguably lacks (though it is my favorite of the three). But I wouldn't say any of these novels stands head and shoulders above the others; indeed, it's rather interesting to read them all in conversation with one another, for their similar and disparate commentaries on the way love can change over time.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,822 reviews1,387 followers
February 17, 2023
Girl, I'm in love with you
This ain't the honeymoon
Passed the infatuation phase ..
Seems like we argue everyday
I know I misbehaved and you made your mistakes ….
We're just ordinary people
We don't know which way to go


Now shortlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize.

As befits the past Arts and Music editor of Pride Magazine, music sits at the heart of this novel, which is one part celebration of black South London life, and in other part an examination of what happens to relationships when they “pass the infatuation phase” and become crowded with the responsibility of children.

In this novel which opens in November 2008 with a parly to celebrate the election of Obama, Michael, perhaps the main character of the two families at the heart of this book – Michael and Melissa in Lewisham near Crystal Palace, Damien and Stephanie (the white character among the four) in Dorking, reflects on the singer John Legend’s debut album “Get Lifted” and how the stages of his love life and now his relationship with Melissa track those of the songs on the album – with the song “

Most Played album was John Legend’s 2004 debut Get Lifted, which was a journey of a different kind. … it fIollowed, as Michael interpreted it, the odyssey of a man changing from a womanising, nightclubbing, phone-number-collecting, good-time cheat into a responsible, mature and committed life partner. It was a slow and difficult road, strewn with conflict and temptation. He loved his girlfriend but he loved his freedom also, and couldn’t his girlfriend see, he sang in She Don’t Have to Know, that just because he slept around it didn’t mean he didn’t love her? …it didn’t mean she wasn’t still his Number One? No, she did not see, and the thing was that this girlfriend, this Number One, was not just any girl. She was special, she was bombastic, she was ‘off the hizzle!’. Snoop Dogg scolded him about it in I Can Change. He said, ‘When you find one like that, you got to make that change, man, cos they don’t come too often, and when they do come, you got to be smart enough to know when to change.’ … he spent one song in an agony of uncertainty called Ordinary People, where his love was undeniable but constantly running into hardship and there were arguments every day and no one knew which way to go. There were two choices, to Stay With You, or not to stay. He stayed. And a… they walked onwards, together, So High, into a future that would repeat their parents’ lives, that is, the ones who were still married. When it was cold outside they were a Refuge for each other, a sweet washing of the soul, a sunny path. …It was one of the best soul records ever made.

But music is threaded throughout the novel – as both couples are forced to examine their lives, their relationships, the choices they have made so far, the sacrifices they believe they have made for each other and their families, and face the decision “to Stay with you, or not to stay”, all of this is done against music being played

The author has even produced a Spotify soundtrack which really should be played in the background when the book is read. The link below explains the context of many of the songs within the plot of the book.


Some of my difficulties with this book were due to my complete lack of identification with the characters (which I think match those of the author) – in fact in many cases my complete opposition of views.

For example a crucial part of the story is Damien’s complete inability to find meaning in his life in the country town of Dorking and his wish (to the horror of Stephanie) to return to South London. When I first went to work in Dorking, having grown up in real countryside in Norfolk, I by contrast thought it was something of an urban jungle (my relatives all thought I lived in London and could nor really see any distinction), and even today I completely identify with Stephanie’s comments that: .

London may be the centre of the world to some people,’ meaning Damian, ‘but I’m sorry, I just don’t think it’s a very good place to raise children.’

Of course, as Michael remarks of his first white girlfriend:

The real difference was in her life, in her history. She could never know him completely because she had not lived as he had lived. She did not belong to the brown world in which he had learned his fear, his fury and his distrust.

A second issue relates to celebrity deaths. Whereas the world event which opens the book was one I think was both pivotal in world terms, and one I personally found very emotional, the same cannot be said, in my view, on either score for the event which ends it - Michael Jackson’s death in June 2009.

However this moment seems to hugely impact all the characters, and is completely pivotal for Damian

“Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low mental skies, never when one is happy. You are walking along on a crumbling road. The tarmac is falling away beneath your feet and you have started to limp, you are wearing rags, a cruel wind is blowing against your face. It feels as though you have been walking for a very long time. You are losing hope. You are losing meaning, and the only thing keeping you going is that stubborn human instinct to proceed. Then, immediately up ahead, you see something, something bright and completely external to your own life. It is so bright that it makes you squint. You see it. You squint. And you stop. For Damian, this happened on the morning of Thursday 25 June ………………….. it was only now that Damian fuly understood and recognised what it meant that his father was dead”

Now while my failure to think Michael Jackson’s death of any interest whatsoever could be put down to cultural difference (and my absence from a “brown world”) I have to say that one of the most baffling moments in my life was the public reaction to Diana’s death in 1997, and I understand that this event was the last event in the author’s previous novel “26a”, so I think this difference is wider.

Stephanie is an interesting character – proud to the point of defiance in her decision to give up her career and personal ambitions to be a mother, and openly scornful of Melissa’s attempts to use feminism to justify her own ambiguity about parenthood and believe that it’s the insertion of children that has broken her relationship with Michael, Stephanie’s ire is directed, via Melissa, more towards the male sex:

‘Oh, listen to you, Susan Sontag or Germaine Greer or whatever your name is. Are you sure you’re not the one with the script? See, I’ve always steered clear of feminism because they’re always so het up about everything instead of just getting on with their lives and just living, you know? It might have done a lot for women in the long run, but I think an essential thing it’s taken away from us, or at least contested in us, is an innocence of instinct. They talk about choice, yet they seem to look down on a woman’s choice to prioritise her children, as if she’s been forced into it. I’m not oppressed. My children don’t oppress me. They free me. It’s the man that’s the problem.’

The writing style of the book is distinctive. The author (at least in this book) is definitely not of the show don’t tell school of writing – with regular, extremely lengthy descriptions of every day life; but these are then occassionally broken up by well written and pithy observations – typically on coupledom or parenthood. Interestingly in my Kindle version, pretty well every time these passages appeared they were marked as having been highlighted by other readers, but they almost jar against the rather mundane nature of much of the writing.

For example I liked (and highlighted myself)

The wedding was lost somewhere, first in an apathy of implementation, then in a cooling of euphoria which happens generally after three years, according to research, and later in the rubble of domesticity that mounts at the door of passion when a child has come and adult life has fully revealed itself, wearing a limp, grey dressing-gown.

Marriage, it was all about the kids. He himself had accepted this a long time ago, that children claim the love, they change it, they drink it, they offer it back to you in a sticky cup and it never quite tastes the same.

On the approach to the river the roads widened into boulevards and became in fleeting moments almost Parisian, the buildings slightly smoother and the stonework somewhat grander, shaking off a downbeat southern mood and a roughness of edge like a woman with messy hair neatening it up as she walked across the water

But these are swamped in the very detailed prose around them – and I also found their juxtaposition rather jarring

However I think I can see what she was trying to do. Firstly I think a crucial part of the book is trying to make the every day life experiences of black Londoners visible from a world of English literature in which they are often absent – hence the lengthy explanations of for example hair choices, shopping and cooking. Secondly a number of the characters struggle with (even mourn) an apparent loss of independence, significance and creation in their lives and its subjugation into the mundanity of being a parent – and I think the occasional observations represent their attempts to occasionally surface into their old lives.

Another rather seemingly strange choice is the rather odd side-story which strays into the supernatural – with some form of malign influence in Melissa and Michael’s house, adding a physical manifestation to the emotional break up of their family life. I believe the author always includes some form of supernatural in her books, and as an identical twin, her believe in a need for her books to add this additional dimension has an extremely moving and affecting basis:


In a book which is all about detailed description – with real shops named and discussed, real songs crucial to the mood and development of the book and the character’s lives and so on, any inaccuracies are particularly jarring.

As someone who started work in Dorking and still lives nearby, and who always enjoyed BBC sports programmes I struggled with (among others): someone living in Dorking three miles east of the town centre (it’s not that large); describing the train they take every day from East Croydon to Dorking (seemingly not noticing that there is no direct train); someone bemoaning Football Focus as a new fangled inferior show replacing Grandstand (for its first 27 years Football Focus was part of Grandstand) and someone called Don Leatherman (is that Des Lynam?).

However again I think I know the explanation. Damian says of his life in Dorking – “He was off the A-Z” and I can only think the author has made a deliberate decision that verisimilitude stops where the countryside starts.

So a book with flaws but one which I think achieves what it sets out to do and a welcome addition to the Women’s Prize longlist.

For those like me that don’t have Spotify I will finish my review with my own You Tube extracted playlist:

Breathe and Stop, Q-Tip:
Heartbreak, Mariah Carey:
Michael Jackson, P.Y.T:
Isaac Hayes, By The Time I Get To Phoenix:
Beres Hammond, There For You:
Amy Winehouse, Love Is A Losing Game:
John Legend, I Can Change:
Roy Ayers, Running Away:
Jill Scott, One is the Magic Number:
Jaguar Wright, Country Song:
Susana Baca, De Los Amores:
Nina Simone, Mr Bojangles:
I Wayne, Living In Love:
Nirvana, Come As You Are:
John Legend, Ordinary People
Profile Image for Peter.
503 reviews608 followers
May 24, 2019
This Women's Prize shortlisted novel focuses on the struggles of two black couples in London, circa 2008. First up are Michael and Melissa, who have been engaged for 13 years. They live in 13 Paradise Row with their beautiful children but under the idyllic facade, cracks have begun to show. Melissa feels frustrated and unfulfilled by her domestic chores, missing her exciting job as a fashion journalist. Michael longs for the passion of their early courtship and believes that his partner is not attracted to him anymore. Their friends Damian and Stephanie are also stuck in a rut. Damian is battling depression, though he is reluctant to admit it, and Stephanie can't understand why he won't seek help. The story explores the dynamics of the two relationships over a number of months.

This is a rambling, meandering novel that really could have done with some extra editing. It is overwhelmed with unnecessary detail - for example, the characters often give lengthy opinions on various pop culture subjects, such as Michael Jackson's career or the John Legend song on which the title is based. I'm not sure these diversions add anything worthwhile to the story.

However, Ordinary People is not completely without merit - there are several sharply observed moments of relationships in crisis. The way the characters question their respective situations felt authentic: "Or had he really fallen in love at all? Was it just that she made him feel adequate and dynamic, that she was focused and forthright in her plans for her life when he was not, so he just went along with her?" But every now and then there was a clunker of a line to make me cringe: "She looked back at the house and regretted that she would not know the tissues of his day – the tissues used to wipe his nose, and the tissues of his new mind experiencing moments." The other thing that irked me was a half-baked supernatural element to the story that felt out of place and a bit ridiculous. Ordinary People is 336 pages long - I would have chopped a hundred or so off, and kept the unflinching, perceptive scenes of two couples under pressure.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,305 followers
April 29, 2019
How long will you go on living your life as if you were balancing on a ribbon?

Now deservedly shortlisted for the 2019 Women's Prize for Fiction, and set largely in a wonderfully drawn South-East London - the London the Tube forgot - Diane Evans's Ordinary People is book-ended by two significant milestones, Obama's election victory in November 2008, and Michael Jackson's death in June 2009.  It opens:
To celebrate Obama’s election, the Wiley brothers threw a party at their house in Crystal Palace. They lived near the park, where the transmitting tower loomed up towards the heavens like a lesser Eiffel, stern and metallic by day, red and lit up by night, overlooking the surrounding London boroughs and the home counties beyond, and harbouring in the green land at its feet the remains of the former glass kingdom – the lake, the maze, the broken Greek statues, the eroded stone lions, and the dinosaurs made of old science.
The Wileys were originally from north of the river and had moved to the south for its creative energy and the charisma of its poverty (they were conscious of their privilege and wanted to be seen as having survived it spiritually).
[But]beneath it all there was a faint air of anticlimax, a contrast between the glory of the moment and the problems of reality, for there were boys outside who might have been Obamas somewhere else but here were shooting each other, and girls who might also have been Michelles.

It tells the entwined story of domestic life and strife of two black middle-class couples.

Melissa and Michael live in Lewisham, having moved south of the river in search of an affordable house, with their daughter Ria and new baby-son Blake, whose birth causes Melissa to struggle balancing child-care, with little help from Michael, and her now freelance magazine writing career. 

The local Crystal Palace, the contents of which were originally relocated from the other side of the river after the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, and now crumbling serves as an image for their marriage:

After the days of glory, when the people had come from miles and miles and across oceans to see the colossi of Abu Simbel and the tomb of Beni Hassan, the Egyptian mummies, the hemp, the Welsh gold and the rhubarb champagne, the Crystal Palace embarked on its long and steady decline.

The second couple, Stephanie and Damian live outside of London, on the fringes of Dorking (where I began my working life).  The domesticated Stephanie, whose family are from the area, persuaded Damian to move out for the sake of their three children, Jerry, Avril and Summer, but Damian misses town:
He missed London, the hum of it, the Brixton roar and the beloved river, the West Indian takeaways, the glittering of the tower blocks at night, the mobile phone shacks, the Africans in Peckham, the common proximity of plantain, the stern beauty of church women on Sunday mornings, the West End, the art in the air, the music in the air, the sense of possibility. He missed the tube, the telephone boxes. He even missed, deep down, the wicked parking inspectors and the heartless bus drivers who flew past queues of freezing pedestrians out of spite.
Music is key to the characters lives, and the author has provided a Spotify playlist of the novel's soundtrack https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2fd...

The novel takes its title, and many of its motifs, from John Legend’s 2004 debut Get Lifted:
He spent one song in an agony of uncertainty called Ordinary People, where his love was undeniable but constantly running into hardship and there were arguments every day and no one knew which way to go.
And a key relevation in Damian's mind is triggered by the death of Michael Jackson:

Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low mental skies, never when one is happy. You are walking along on a crumbling road. The tarmac is falling away beneath your feet and you have started to limp, you are wearing rags, a cruel wind is blowing against your face. It feels as though you have been walking for a very long time. You are losing hope. You are losing meaning, and the only thing keeping you going is that stubborn human instinct to proceed. Then, immediately up ahead, you see something, something bright and completely external to your own life. It is so bright that it makes you squint. You see it. You squint. And you stop.

For Damian this happened on the morning of Thursday 25 June.

Race is present but more as a background to the way the characters live their lives and interpret events - from the excitement of Obama's victory to the growing knife crime. When one considers his relationship with a white woman:

It was minimal, physically, the difference between them, his brown against her cream. The real difference was in her life, in her history. She could never know him completely because she had not lived as he had lived. She did not belong to the brown world in which he had learned his fear, his fury and his distrust.

There is a lot of symbolism in the novel, including a possible supernatural presence in the south London house that may be imagined by Melissa or may be real, but it is best read for the pleasure of the storytelling and setting. For Michael a similar key revelation occurs in a rather humdrum setting: Michael admitted to himself now, in the safety and the glaring lights of Lidl ... How long will you go on living your life as if you were balancing on a ribbon?

As one character says - which isn't a bad reading manifesto:

I’m trying to read all the books I lost during my English degree – all that analysing them to death, having to write essays about them. It stopped me actually reading them, just reading, purely, you know, for pleasure’s sake. I’m reclaiming my literary innocence.’
There is some wonderful set-piece humour, such as a domestic discussion, about over Sunday lunch at Stephanie’s Dorking based parents, on crisp flavours, which morphs into one on how TV was so much better in the olden days, setting up a nice punchline:
‘I wouldn’t mind some more of those crisps. What flavour were they?’
‘Thai sweet chilli and sour cream.’
‘Wow. The things they do to crisps these days!’ Patrick said. ‘When I was a kid there was just ready salted, cheese and onion, and salt and vinegar. When they brought in beef and onion it was like caviar or something.  It’s like extraterrestrial television. The entrance of Channel Four into the picture was enormous, wasn’t it, V?
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition if you get amazing concoctions like that out of it.
But when it means that people are making TV shows that they just know are, excuse my language, utter tripe, then it’s just bad for entertainment, isn’t it? I mean, what was wrong with Grandstand? Do you remember Grandstand?
I loved that show. And they’ve got rid of it. I just don’t understand it. And now there’s Football Focus instead, which is just not of the same calibre, in my opinion. Gary Lineker is a pillock, excuse my language. He’s all about the cool shirts and the baby face and the ladies love him, but he’s not a commentator. He’s got nothing on Don Leatherman. He may be a better-looking chap but he hasn’t got half the brains Don’s got.’
‘He’s done a lot for crisps, though,’ Verena said.

And some lovely vignettes of South London life - one that I read this morning as I took this very seat on my bus:

Because he got on near the first stop he usually got his favourite seat, the top deck, second from the front on the left-hand side.

An enjoyable read and worthy addition to the Women's Prize longlist.
Profile Image for Neale .
310 reviews143 followers
March 28, 2019


3.5 Stars.

Looking back in hindsight, I probably went into this book expecting not to like it. Even the title has a way of unintentionally lowering your expectations. What could be exciting or enjoyable about reading about a bunch of people living out their “ordinary” lives? Well, I can admit that I am pleasantly surprised and did enjoy this novel. Having said that, I don’t think it will be for everybody.
A simple description of the narrative is that it’s about two couples, one married, one not. Both have kids and both have problems. However, it is so much more. It’s about relationships and how they change when kids come into the picture. It’s about waning love, and the loss of the intensity that ultimately arrives with time. It’s about how we view ourselves as opposed to how others view us. To their friends, Melissa and Michael are the perfect couple and yet we, the reader, know they are not. It is about the complex relationship between two people and how that relationship changes, morphs, builds, collapses, over time. Stephanie and Damian have got to a point where they manoeuvre themselves so that they are never in the same room together. Over time the relationship is hit with many problems and every individual addresses these problems in their own individual way. Should a person put themselves first and leave the relationship? Whatever decision is made causes many other problems to come into existence, and lives are changed. Will it be better for the children or worse? The title of the book is Ordinary People, but these complex relationships and lives are anything but.
The problems for the characters are very real and, human nature being what it is, the characters tend to magnify their own problems and forget about everybody else.
Michael, who has not yet married Melissa, is feeling that the passion and flair has somehow escaped his relationship with Melissa and yearns for the fiery spontaneity that it used to contain. Melissa also feels this loss, but for her it is more about the loss of her career, her individuality. She feels she is now chained to motherhood, with Michael barely helping at all.
Damien who has just lost his father is feeling more and more isolated from Stephanie with each day and cannot seem to find an answer. Of all the four major characters, Stephanie is the least developed, not really adding much to the narrative at all.
The writing is excellent and towards the end of the book there is a great part where Melisa believes that the house they have bought is haunted and is slowly indelibly destroying her daughter. It’s a great change of pace to the narrative. Is the house haunted?
I enjoyed this book, I loved the characters, I loved the writing and I loved the music, which actually plays an integral role to the narrative, 3.5 Stars.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,222 reviews35 followers
June 27, 2018
2.5 rounded down

I didn't particularly dislike this, just felt pretty ambivalent about it.

Although the premise isn't new (how relationships and people change after marriage and/or children) I began this thinking it had potential, but the story ended up being kind of all over the place. I'd think it was just getting better, or the author had just hit on something that really made me think... and then it was over, things moved on, and I felt kind of bored again.

The lack of character development was disappointing, and by the time it got to the ghosts I was pretty checked out. A lot of "telling" and not a lot of dialogue, which isn't my favourite. Really not sure why this one is getting so many rave reviews in the media...
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
686 reviews3,397 followers
May 1, 2019
In a way I felt a special connection with this novel centred around a location so familiar to me. Diana Evans’ “Ordinary People” is set roughly a decade ago – spanning between the year of Obama’s election to the year of Michael Jackson’s death - in an area of south London very close to where I live. So I could instantly visualize the landmarks, parks and even the bus routes she references. Her characters eat in some restaurants I’ve eaten in and even if a restaurant wasn’t named I still knew which one she meant based on her description of the tables. That’s how close to home it was for me!

The novel is truly saturated with details about London life because it recounts with great specificity tube journeys, walks and daily life in the capital amidst the stories of two couples whose relationships are in a state of flux. Both couples have children. Each of them finds the ordinariness of daily existence is gradually draining away their sense of individuality and their ability to dream of any other way of life. In this context it makes sense that Evans loads her novel with such a density of detail because it allows the reader to fully visualize and feel the texture of their lives weighing upon them. A working father named Damian has a panic attack amidst his stultifying routine of getting a sandwich on his lunch break. A freelance journalist and mother named Melissa feels like she’s suffocating staying in her house day after day. And all Evans’ vividly specific descriptions enhance the sense of their reality but it also runs the risk of boring readers by drowning them in the mundane.

Read my full review of Ordinary People by Diana Evans on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for But_i_thought_.
184 reviews1,535 followers
May 5, 2019
The problem with this book is its sheer ordinariness. Quaint domestic dramas like these seemed to be popular some 20 years ago — think, Suzanne Berne’s A Perfect Arrangement or Rachel Cusk’s Arlington Park, both examining middle age and domesticity.

The world has become a lot more complicated since then. The impact of social media, the rise of nationalism, the political divide, mass diaspora, the changing landscape of race and gender, the threat of climate change... these issues have brought an urgency to the literary medium. A book set in the (near) present that engages with none of these topics feels quaint, pedestrian, self-indulgent, frivolous even. We have a run-of-the-mill marriage experiencing run-of-the-mill problems. The obligatory affair. The expected resolution.

Though the book contains many amusing anecdotes about everyday family life — a very unglamorous labour, clumsy attempts at re-kindling post-baby romance, the torture of baby beat classes, the virtues of grocery shopping at discount stores — these lightly satirical scenes feel like they would have found a better home in the humor columns of a lifestyle magazine. Or perhaps the pages of a personal blog.

The writing, too, feels casual, colloquial, at times even clumsy, becoming more so as the novel progresses:

“The sun was setting so peachly, and the air was so warm and silky, and the beverage was going down so cool and wet.”

At other times it veers between the awkward and the clichéd:

“On the third day a rainbow did emerge, spectacularly, on the wings of a new blast of sun, and not just one but two, […] the sun itself a neat apricot glow, like a great lost earring, risen from the gloom.”

Is this what freelance journalism does to an otherwise talented writer? Evans’ debut, 26a, about twin Nigerian girls growing up in London was magical, charming, transporting — or perhaps I was just a very different reader 13 years ago. The author’s more recent work feels diluted — light, breezy — by comparison.

Should Ordinary People be read as a thesis on the incompatibility of parenthood and romantic love? Or a work of satire on modern day selfishness? Like the crisps the characters so frequently snack on, the book is breezily consumed, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Mood: Casual, bloggish
Rating: 6/10

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Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,671 reviews2,667 followers
April 30, 2019
This reminded me a fair bit of On Beauty by Zadie Smith – high praise as that’s one of my favorite novels of the last 15 years. It focuses on two Black couples in South London and the suburbs who, in the wake of Obama’s first election, are reassessing their relationships. Their problems are familiar middle-class ones – how to balance career and family, especially for Melissa, with a new baby; how romances fade over time; and how the grass always looks greener in somebody else’s garden – but Evans captures them so candidly that many passages made me wince. It’s all too easy to lose sight of who you are and what you want, or to stop appreciating who and what you have in your life. “She no longer put kisses on the ends of her texts or emails during the day. Now it was only, ‘Can you pop to Lidl on way hm, chick thighs, pots, tissues, milk’, or, ‘Bog roll pls’.”

I had a little bit of trouble keeping the central couples straight, at least until they all go on holiday to Spain together. Chapter 13, in which two of the characters experience some mental instability, possibly a combination of depression and a ghostly influence, is a standout. The Black slang and references to pop music are a nice touch, though I could see them alienating some readers.

(This is now on the Women’s Prize and Rathbones Folio Prize shortlists.)
Profile Image for Jerrie.
990 reviews130 followers
April 22, 2019
Evans does a great job of capturing the discontent that often arises during that period in a couple’s relationship when they have young children and their careers are starting to pick up. She highlights this challenging time, especially for women who have the added burden of being the ‘perfect’ mom or who sometimes come to find that (gasp) they actually don’t enjoy being a mom at all. Unfortunately, the book is bogged down by some superfluous plot lines and the writing is often of the telling variety and overly wordy.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
684 reviews603 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
May 20, 2019
I read almost half of the first chapter, and that was about 17.5 pages too much for my liking. “Dull People” should’ve been the title. Lists upon lists of ridiculous materialistic crap. I seem to vaguely remember – I just bailed two minutes ago – that there were one or two characters’ names mentioned, but really all I will take from this drab tale are lists, endless lists of what people wore, drank, and danced to.
Profile Image for Alex.
689 reviews97 followers
April 21, 2019
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2


As the title suggests, Diana Evans' ORDINARY PEOPLE delves deep into the mundane struggles of domestic life, capturing a key period in the lives of two BAM couples, Michael and Melissa and Danian and Stephanie). Their passions having become stale, exhausted by parenthood and time, all four begin to reflect on the days of their relationships and whether past intense love or their shared children are enough to keep going.

Evans is a skilled writer and her prose captures perfectly the claustrophobic and anxiety filled sentiments so common in the minds of struggle young parents. While I appreciated the accuracy of the depiction, as someone in the midst of his first year of fatherhood (and all the struggles it brings to a relationship) it almost hit on the nose a bit too much. We want critical writiing but maybe the mirror staring back at us should be a bit more skewed.

But aside from my own personal reactions, I wonder how groundbreaking this social domestic novel is, whether it is a story that still needs telling. Although situated in the shadow of Obama's 2008 election, it feels dated with its references to Michael Jackson's death and early 00s John Legand albums. It reminds me of Zadie Smith's WHITE NOISE or ON BEAUTY, both better executed and more far reaching on their thematic focuses compared to ORDINARY PEOPLE. I asked myself, as I often do with books that seem to stand in a tradition already thoroughly explored, why do we need this novel. Evans of course can write whatever she wants but as readers we should also ask what is the larger contribution being made here, even when the writing is spot on.

ORDINARY PEOPLE still manages to evoke very powerful reactions from the reader, forcing us to ask why we couple with a particular person and why remain when confronted with challenges to the very foundation that made us in the first place. Although not necessarily groundbreaking and at times a chore to get through , Evans still delivers a solid book that in the end delivers a more than satisfying and honest conclusion.

I don't think it should make the shortlist I'm happy it made the longlist, being a worthy title to be recognized by the WOMEN'S PRIZE jury.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews651 followers
April 15, 2019
November 2008 and a party in London celebrates the election of Barack Obama and we are introduced to Michael and Melissa. Not long after that, we meet Damian and Stephanie. These two couples, along with their children, are the central characters in this novel that tracks their relationships. The book closes around the time of Michael Jackson’s death, by which time relationships have foundered, re-launched, foundered again. You might want to ask why a novel about two London couples is bookended by events in America (I don’t know the answer).

Michael and Melissa live in Lewisham with their children Ria and Blake. They moved there (south of the river) in a search for affordable housing. They live near Crystal Palace which, as the book explains, also moved from north to south of the river and which serves, in its crumbling state, as a metaphor for their relationship.

Damian and Stephanie live in Dorking, outside of London, with their children Jerry, Avril and Summer. This move away from the city is the source of some tension between the couple.

As you can see, the set up isn’t cheerful. Michael and Melissa are struggling, Damian and Stephanie are struggling. The front cover of my edition describes the book as “hilariously entertaining”, but I have to say the hilarity bypassed me completely. It’s a sad story.

I assume the comments about comedy come from the writing rather than the plot. But this is where the book and I most parted company as I could not get on with the writing style at all. Phrases like ”his breath gave up on infinity” when someone dies put me off rather than engaged me. And when I read “You said you felt like you were dissolving in vacuity. Those were your exact words.”, I’m afraid my only reaction was “Nobody would actually talk like that!”. For my personal taste, I highlighted too many sentences like this that simply put me off the book. I won’t include any more examples here as I don’t want to taint others’ experience of the novel and the things that I disliked may well be poetic to you.

The most interesting thing about the book is the music. There is almost always music playing somewhere in the background as you read. I understand the author has created a playlist to accompany the book. Not every artist mentioned has a specific track associated with them, but I counted 38 different musical artists. The key artist is John Legend as it is a song of his that gives the book its title and the track list of the album referred to, along with the lyrics, often forms a kind of reference for how events are progressing: the status of a relationship is described in terms of which song from the album most fits the current situation and the couple track up and down the playlist.

My journey with this book was very up and down. At the start, I really did not like it. Sad to say, I skim read some parts near the beginning and missed something. I was guided back to what I had missed by a GR friend (thanks, Paul) and had to re-read some bits of the book. As the book developed I started to enjoy it a bit more. But there is a hint of gothic horror that comes to fruition at the climax and at this point a book that had managed to climb from 2 stars to 3 plunged back down again. This bit really did not work for me.

I know there is a lot of love for this book in different reviews. I’m quite prepared to admit this is probably a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.
Profile Image for PS.
137 reviews15 followers
February 14, 2018
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel: a portrait of black Londoners set against the backdrop of Obama's historical election victory. It started off well: Evans set up the two couples and their backstories in the first couple of chapters and then everything started to go downhill from there.

The novel was too long: I found myself bored through large sections of the novel. It was far too descriptive (did Evans really need to mention every single toy in that baby singing class?), with a lot of superfluous material that added nothing to the narrative. Take this random product placement for MAC cosmetics for example: “They had understanding browns, many shades of it, placing them above brands who allowed only a few dark tones to be flawless.”

As a reader, I like to reach an understanding of events and characters on my own, but Evans made that impossible at times. A little more of show and less of tell, would have helped sections like this where she describes the crowd's reaction to a parent's dance performance at an event at school: “There was a blast of applause from the crowd, honouring the bravado and lustre of her performance, her commitment to celebrating life whatever your age and setting a shining example to the children.”

The plot had promise: the reality of parenting, the loss of passion in a relationship over time, but it did not work for me. It was all over the place: it started off as literary fiction, meandered into chick lit, and turned into a ghost story along the way before dissolving into an unsatisfying end.

There were some redeeming aspects to the novel: her poetic descriptions of travelling across the river in London and the sections featuring Melissa's frustrations regarding the gendered aspects of parenting, but it was not enough to make this a worthwhile read.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for an ARC!
Profile Image for Britta Böhler.
Author 8 books1,910 followers
May 22, 2019
Not my favorite of the shortlisted books. I can see what the author wanted to do but the tale of the two couples is a bit tedious at times... And the musical references didnt mean enough to me to give flavor to the story.
Profile Image for Hannah.
595 reviews1,055 followers
Shelved as 'will-probably-not-finish'
June 5, 2019
This just isn't the book for me. I found it overly wordy and bogged down by details and I just do not want to keep investing my time.
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
569 reviews102 followers
August 4, 2023
Shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Literature, this is an unusual book, and very much of its time.  This is a London book that features two couples living pretty standard, married lives, facing the challenges of coupledom, the raising of children, infidelity, and an average interest in contemporary political events.
What makes this different, is that the couples in question are either black or a mixture of black and white.  There are some key references to outlooks and style that is specifically for a black person, but otherwise the story and the pressure points for the most part could be about (much, much) more frequently written about white people.  This is a great book to showcase the similarities of lifestyle for people of different cultural and racial backgrounds.   (A great description of baby socialising with other, new mothers is the singing with Chun Song Li and “Baby Beat” (88).
The similarly named (and Women’s long listed) Normal People has been one of the great publishing successes of the last twelve months.  That features teenage love and angst, but it’s a mystery to me why Normal People and Ordinary People have such wildly different reading and rating totals on Goodreads.

Ordinary People has some real strengths.  The accompanying soundtrack (Spotify linked by Diana Evans at the rear of the book), is a very contemporary way to link literature and youth culture.  It reminds me of Guy Gunaratne’s Man Booker listed In Our Mad And Furious City In Our Mad and Furious City The books title, and part inspiration derives from John Legend.
The Guy Gunaratne comparison doesn’t just come back to music. Gunaratne is quite deliberate in his comments (in interview, and via his characters) that London eventually exhausts you, and that there’s the need to get out.  Melissa wants to leave London “this whole city is infected ... London is not the only place “ (232)(this is consequent to the again, very contemporary, daily news of stabbings across London), but Michael doesn’t (their respective roots are Nigeria and Jamaica). “I’m not leaving Londinium he said adamantly.’I need to be around brown people’ (232). Dorking is the unlikely location of Michael’s great pal Damian, and while it may be built up and  suburban, this is a million miles away from London.  I get that, totally.
"What he saw when he walked, the necessity, and the laughter and the sadness of the blackness  around him- the beauty of three black boys singing in the street yesterday, or the menace in a St. George’s flag hanging from a deep- southern balcony, and in that deep south the never ending sorrow for Stephen”

As the book moves towards its conclusion it seems to be the life dilemma that is familiar to generations of parents, that causes the greatest soul searching.
Melissa "I think when I’m older I’d like to live on my own, where I can be completely myself " (324)
Her mother (Alice) says she has to “cross the river”, something that Stephanie and Damian just about manage for the sake of the kids.

I don't think this will win the Baileys Prize 2019, and perversely that's because it tells of lives described in the title... "Ordinary People".
I think that's its greatest strength.
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,222 reviews87 followers
December 1, 2020
My response to this novel fluctuated frequently between appreciation and impatience.

It focuses on a pair of middle-class black couples in London in 2008-2009. They're in their mid-thirties, with young kids, and hitting difficult patches in their relationships. Matthew and Melissa are the more fleshed out couple. After deciding to stay home and freelance after the birth of their second child, Melissa finds she is losing her sense of self and growing more and more irritated with Matthew, as well as uncomfortable with their dusty old house and unsafe neighbourhood. Damian chafes at suburban life and is unmoored after the death of a father he wasn't close to, while Stephanie (the least developed character) is frustrated with his absence.

At times the novel felt plodding, at other times too lyrical and over-written, but then at other times it was spot-on in its descriptions and exchanges. Some very funny and/or (definitely sometimes 'and') poignant set pieces. The last third was especially good, and I read it while listening to the playlist Evans developed for the novel, which was rather fun.
Profile Image for Beth Bonini.
1,304 reviews282 followers
June 2, 2019
This story of two ‘ordinary’ couples in contemporary London is bookended by two extraordinary events: the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States (November 4, 2008) and the death of Michael Jackson (June 25, 2009). There is a lot of significance in those two public figures - not just their race, although that is key - but also that arc of possibility/hope and sadness/finality. Obama and Jackson: they are both such important black icons, and even more than that, symbols, beacons and bellwethers. People, no matter how diverse in experience and outlook, have a shared collective memory of what Obama and Jackson have meant to them. In a way, this book is very much about what unites and what divides us. The collective experience is set against a more specific one.

Author Diana Evans takes the typical stuff of middle-aged life (marriage, parenthood, the death of parents, life/work balance) and then she colours in the details. And the differences. The setting is London, but a London of the margins and the suburbs. The book has a wealth of precise detail in it and Londoners, in particular, will probably enjoy the name-checking of the places, bus routes, shops, museums, food, music and street culture which make up the city. It’s not a glamorous London, but a workaday one. Her two couples are Melissa/Michael (who have two children) and Damian/Stephanie (who have three children). Melissa has a Nigerian mother and a white English father. Michael is Jamaican 2nd generation, presumably the offspring of the Windrush generation. Damian had a Trinidadian father, whose death just before the novel begins precipitates a crisis in his son’s life. Only Stephanie is white, and what might be described as a middle-class child of the Home Counties. These racial/cultural aspects are important in some senses, as the characters definitely experience their life in London through a particular prism of experience. Knife crime - bad in 2009, and even worse ten years later in 2019 - is part of the backdrop of the novel. How we raise our children in the city, how we stay safe in the city, is definitely a concern in the minds of these parents. Melissa and Michael’s neighbourhood in south London feels unsafe to them, and their house (crooked and crumbling) becomes a very active metaphor for the cracks that are showing in their relationship. They have built a family life on a foundation that no longer feels secure.

I suspect that marriage has never been easy, but perhaps it is even more difficult in modern life. The author puts her couples under specific but wholly relatable tensions, and the reader may be surprised by which couple manages to keep it all tenuously ‘together’ and which one doesn’t. I’m not sure that this book will really stick in my mind, but I enjoyed it while I was reading it - and I particularly liked reading about characters whose experience of London is different from my own.
Profile Image for MisterHobgoblin.
349 reviews46 followers
March 15, 2018
Ordinary people - ordinary book. This is a novel that promises a lot: some kind of State of the Union for black Londoners in the aftermath of the Obama election. But the reality is grinding drudgery of Londoners worried about house prices, prestige and how many friends they have. There's a couple (Damian and Stephanie) that have relocated to outer suburbia, and another couple (Melissa and Michael) living in Sarf Lahndan. They worry about jobs and babies and sex. Then they worry some more about jobs and babies and sex.

Look, I got to a third of the way through and found that I didn't care about the characters, couldn't tell them apart, had no idea what they were looking for or how they inter-related. If you ask me what the book is about, I couldn't really say. Perhaps it's the way high hopes dispel into the mundane. If so, I feel that I got the message.

Sure, there are individual scenes that are good, funny even. The baby-singing class, for example, and the saleswoman who is so concerned to push her ten lessons for the price of nine. But it isn't enough to sustain interest. Ordinary People is not even an outrageously long novel, but the complete lack of any development - plot or character - just makes it feel like there's a law of diminishing returns at play. So I didn't hate what I read, but I just increasingly wished I were reading something different.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
684 reviews179 followers
April 29, 2019
The title of Diana Evans's new novel, Ordinary People, comes from a John Legend song. "This ain't the honeymoon, past the infatuation phase," he sings. "Right in the thick of love, at times we get sick of love..." And then: "We're just ordinary people/we don't know which way to go." This, in a nutshell, is the problem for Evans's protagonists: two couples, Michael and Melissa, Damian and Stephanie, trying to keep their relationships alive after marriage and/or children, moving to the suburbs, losing a parent, discovering that they will very soon no longer be young.

Evans would be most easy to compare to Zadie Smith, although the hyperactivity, focus on working-class second-generation immigrants, and high intellectualism of Smith's work is less evident here; instead, Evans has written a literary novel about the domestic lives of black people in London who—though some of them are second-generation immigrant stock—have entered the middle class. There is, of course, a political aspect to the book: the book opens with the election of Barack Obama, and closes with the death of Michael Jackson. Damian's father was a Jamaican intellectual obsessed with the black struggle; Michael's increasing comfort in a suit is a quiet metaphor for his assimilation into a professional world that is overwhelmingly white; Melissa finds herself thinking of de Beauvoir and Kristeva when her children whine, feeling that she's sold out feminism but unable to turn back now. Evans's writing decisions, especially her plotting, is brave: not everyone gets a happy ending, and we're forced to question what happiness can look like, the possibility that finishing things amicably with your partner can actually be the right choice, and no one's fault. Ordinary People is an extraordinary book for posing those possibilities while also telling an apparently familiar story about domestic strife; it's very impressive.
Profile Image for Alison Hardtmann.
1,294 reviews2 followers
June 3, 2019
Melissa and Michael are the perfect couple. Attractive and well-matched, they are the couple their friends would say is the most likely to be together forever. They have two lovely children and they've just moved into a house of their own. But the new house, far in the outer reaches of London's suburbs, means that Michael has a long commute each day and returns home in the evening tired, and Melissa is finding that caring for two small children isn't something she's managing well on her own. She'd thought she'd be able to do some freelance work during nap time, but nap time isn't guaranteed and even when the baby agrees to a nap, Melissa has trouble getting work done in the limited time. And the house doesn't feel welcoming. There's mold in odd corners and her daughter's skin always seems dry.

Their good friends, Damien and Stephanie are also entering into a year of disquiet. Damien's estranged father has died and while he is sure he feels nothing, he is far more affected than he believes he is. And his own unsettled feelings are causing him to feel stifled by Stephanie's devotion to family life. Which is not something she has any patience for.

Shortlisted for the Women's Prize, Diana Evans's novel explores the marriages of two black couples living in London in the year that was marked by the election of Barack Obama and the death of Michael Jackson. Evans allows her characters to inhabit marriages as stressed and imperfect as those in any of the many, many novels about white British couples, she's not interested in writing about anyone behaving in an exemplary fashion. There's a lot of substance here, but I was left more interested in the marriage that received far less attention. Evans definitely nails the different ways two people living in the same place can manage to not talk to each other. I was left feeling as though I never really understood any of the characters, but the blame for that is certainly not entirely the author's.
Profile Image for ns510.
391 reviews
March 21, 2019
3.5 stars

“Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low mental skies, never when one is happy. You are walking along on a crumbling road. The tarmac is falling away beneath your feet and you have started to limp, you are wearing rags, a cruel wind is blowing against your face. It feels as though you have been walking for a very long time. You are losing hope. You are losing meaning, and the only thing feeling keeping you going is that stubborn human instinct to proceed. Then, immediately up ahead, you see something, something bright and completely external to your own life. It is so bright that it makes you squint. You see it. You squint. And you stop.”

I’m not completely sure how I felt about this book, probably still processing it. Not sure if I want to round it up or down. Overall, I did like this, though my reading experience was a tad uneven - some parts I liked a lot more than others, others felt a lot slower for what is already a slow-paced read.

The story itself is a realistic, nuanced look at the everyday lives of black families, mainly two young black families living in London. It made for bleak, uncomfortable reading in parts, especially when the author got to the nitty gritty of the dissatisfaction that can develop in relationships when you have lost yourselves, what more each other within that relationship. Having children clearly changes things a lot, and forces you to put more effort in various aspects of your life. Wound through all this are glimpses of things that punctuate the normality of black daily life in London. Amidst the mundanity, the author manages to cover a lot - the lives of young black families, and that of biracial couples and their families, the intrinsic differences between the lives of black people and white people, youth violence and how it affects black families, reconciling your identity as an individual and as a couple within a comfortable relationship and then again once you add children to the mix. And lots of music - one character thinks of his romantic life in terms of a John Legend album!

The author also has a playlist you can listen to while reading this book. I didn’t have it on the whole time but I couldn’t help humming the tunes mentioned out loud in parts. In fact, a lot of the way through the book I had Legend’s Ordinary People stuck in my head! Musically, the tune hit the perfect pitch of what the vibe of the book was to me - poignant, gentle, just the ups and downs and undulations of the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Personally, I prefer more of a show-don’t-tell approach when it comes to storytelling. I appreciate those kinds of stories where characters come to life, in all their human flaws, and as a reader you have no choice but to just sit and helplessly watch it all unfold, regardless of whether you agree with what the characters choose to do or otherwise (an American Marriage, also on the Women’s Prize longlist, comes to mind). There is that here, but confusingly, there is also a lot of telling and introspection. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Overall, I will take it for what it gave me - an impression of a slice of black family life in suburban London, and moments of insight such as these:
”It was minimal, physically, the difference between them, his brown against her cream. The real difference was in her life, in her history. She could never know him completely because she had not lived as he had lived. She did not belong to the brown world in which he had learned his fear, his fury and his distrust. He found himself explaining things to her and not liking that he had to explain, whereas with Melissa, or with Gillian, all the others before, they already knew those things and he didn’t have to tell them anything. Even if they had not felt it themselves, they knew it, because they were of the same texture, or a variation of that texture. The difference between him and Rachel was inside, as defined by the outer side. And when he walked with her, the tension he felt, besides the obvious worry of being a cheat, was not what people might think, of him, of them, as a possible couple, but that she did not know what he saw when he walked, the necessity and the laughter and the sadness of the blackness around him - the beauty of three black boys singing in the street yesterday, or the menace in a St George’s flag hanging from a deep-southern balcony, and in that same Deep South the never-ending sorrow for Stephen, for all the Stephens and the murdered ancestors of Stephen. Or the sweetness of that moment at the soya milk just now, that passing brotherliness. She would not smile. She would not know, as Melissa knew. Her life was a different language.”
Profile Image for Kayleigh | Welsh Book Fairy.
546 reviews66 followers
December 26, 2022
— 𝐁𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐑𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐰 —

𝐓𝐢𝐭𝐥𝐞: Ordinary People
𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬: N/A
𝐀𝐮𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐫(𝐬): Diana Evans
𝐆𝐞𝐧𝐫𝐞: Contemporary Fiction
𝐃𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐏𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐝: 5th April 2018
𝐑𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠: 2/5

"'I'm on a mission to reclaim my literary innocence.'"

Ordinary People is centered around two black couples, Melissa and Michael, and Damian and Stephanie. The initial glow of their relationships has dulled and their fiery love turns into a comfortable familiarity, which then twists into a feral resentment for each of them that was once held in the throes of passion.

The story begins with the elated and historic election of Barrack Obama, and the hopeful turn in the tide of modern racism.

"They too had stayed up on Tuesday night watching blue eat red, and the Obama daughters walking on to the stage in their small, well-tailored dresses and their excited shoes had reminded many of the four lite girls bombed forty-six years before in the church in Alabama by the Ku Klux Klan."

Initially, there is a strong sense of empowerment for black people, and beautifully made points of why the racial movement is still needed to surge forwards. I felt like I was going to really enjoy this novel, it seemed hyper aware of societal pressures, was pro-human rather than pro-generic white man, and had sensational descriptions of even the most simple of things.

And then it became overpowering.

The book loses it's firm standing of creating a realistic world which we're all sheltered from in some way or form, and stretches down the avenue of marriage. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, apart from the fact that the narrative lost the sense of empowerment completely. But:

There are vast amounts of effervescent descriptions that link and form a narrative, at first it's refreshing, and then it became stifling. I ended up skimming a few pages to see if anything of any substance or even a gleam of progression occurs. I don't need a book with all action to keep me on my toes, but there is sparse dialogue and lengthy, arduous, over-descriptions of everything. It was too much. I don't want to read about Melissa's cappuccino slip or Michael's eventual beauty any more than I need to.

The overuse of metaphors went from pretentious to annoying. The prose was a domesticated animal, a lazy cat plodding along at a slow pace, a weary dog on a come down from playing with a ball, there was no sense of urgency to the narrative, it was, well... boring.

The black empowerment theme made way for a story line of resentment within marriages. A familiar theme. And then bizarrely took a detour down a path reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which peaked and then fizzled out completely to make way for an unsatisfactory closure. There seemed to be a lot of conjecture but no substantial progress to a story line that connected neatly or made much sense, the prose is idyllic, but lost in a sea of plot ideas.

The lack of character development and the awful conclusions of each couples story was unsatisfying for such a long read. The novel itself is depressing for any of us readers with future prospects of marriage, and I wish I'd either avoided it completely, or put the book to rest at an earlier point.
"'The greatest challenge in life is not to die before we die,' Melissa said. 'I read that somewhere. It happens to a lot of people.' She was going to add, 'I think it's happening to me,' but didn't."

Diana Evans' descriptive prowess is incredible but excessive. If the author had reigned it in and concentrated more on the plot, I may have enjoyed this or at the very least, been more comfortable with the narrative.


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Profile Image for Claire .
356 reviews57 followers
May 14, 2019
A story about love and how relationships can destroy love. In this novel we follow two couples who through the ups and downs of daily life gradually risk to lose sight of what is important.
Beautifully written and an empathic view on the frailness of humans and their relations, on the passing by of the years and the dangers of living life without taking time and a break once in a while.
Profile Image for Tuti.
463 reviews47 followers
June 2, 2019
womens prize for fiction 2019 shortlist
loved everything about it!! smart, funny, sad, wise, contemporary, urban, poetic, realistic, magical... true. beautiful sentences, great characters, life in london in our times, as it is... exquisite scenes... accomplished in every regard. what more can you ask for? highly recommended
Profile Image for Abbie | ab_reads.
603 reviews447 followers
May 15, 2019
Thank you to @womensprize for sending me this book to review! Ordinary People has a lot of the ingredients that usually make a five-star read for me (character-driven plot, motherhood, explorations of race and class in Britain) and yet it ended up just being a middle of the road read. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, it just... was.
Although the back of the book claimed to follow the lives of two couples, there was definitely a very strong bias towards one couple, Michael and Melissa, to the point where Stephanie, the woman in the other couple, just felt very 2D and unexplored considering she was meant to be one of the four main characters. Some parts of their relationships were frustrating, some fascinating, some relatable, but also predictable. You can see what’s coming from a mile off so there was no real impact when it did happen.
The style I did enjoy! I like run-on sentences as they really pull me into a book and make me feel more involved in it. If the balance between the two couples had been more even then that definitely would have made a difference.
I’m also not sure what to make of the rather bizarre twist at the end where things got very gothic and the house’s role become a lot more pronounced than it had been previously. Was there a ghost? Possession? Hallucination? Post-natal depression? We’ll never know and I don’t know how well it fit the overall tone of the book but it certainly was interesting!
Overall, it’s clear Evans does have an eye for the minutiae of everyday coupledom and parts of this I really enjoyed for their triviality and humour (the part about Lidl really made me chuckle), and I’d be interested in reading some of her earlier work to compare. Ordinary People just lacked some of the spark I was looking for!
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