The story focuses on two couples living in London. Michael and Melissa have two young children, and live in a crumbling, damp Victorian terrace. Melissa feels her identity is disappearing and Michael wonders where ‘the Melissa he first met’ has gone. 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, and he is questioning his relationship and the purpose of his life.
The characters are ‘ordinary people’ – their struggles and joys are ordinary – in fact, painfully ordinary. They’re bored by their relationships; their jobs are not what they dreamed; their creative projects have stalled; they can’t be arsed doing home maintenance; they resent their role in the family.
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 am generally drawn to ‘relationship’ stories – in them I seek something relatable in the characters, and different perspectives on what they feel or do. While there were moments of recognition in Ordinary People, there was no challenge, no reason for closer examination.
I found Evans’s writing overdone and crammed with detail – too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’ (a stark comparison to the last ‘relationship’ story I read, Writers & Lovers by Lily King). Some sentences read like extracts from a creative writing exercise, that Evans was determined to use in her novel, regardless of the relevance –
…afterwards they went to MAC, which was situated by the main entrance in the make-up hall. It was guarded by a gang of beautiful creatures in black clothes listening to dance music, the MAC ladies. They wore their make-up pouches slung on belts around their hips, from which they flipped out eye pencils, mascaras and colours to paint the faces of the weak. They were deliverers of blue, scientists of pink. They knew the secrets to lifting a dull skin and mattifying a stubborn shine.
And it continues on about MAC for another half page. Clearly I’m missing something – Ordinary People made the shortlist for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Folio Prize.
The early references to music (slightly after my eighties music sweet-spot but relatable nonetheless) were promising –
The success of a party can often be measured according to the impact of Jump, by Kris Kross, on whether there is jumping during the chorus and for how long.
But ultimately, the music references are overdone and Evans uses John Legend songs to chart the plot. I guess that would be exciting for John Legend fans…
Two more peeves before I stop thinking about this book – the references to the supernatural presence in Melissa and Michael’s house (sorry, it added nothing); and the reference to life ‘balancing on a ribbon’ used by two characters at the beginning and end of the novel (so painfully contrived).
Egusi was stewing. Chapattis were frying. Rice was steaming and plantain was undressing.