It’s a while since I read a novel that so throughly captivated me in the way that Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers did. It is the story of Jean Swinney, a 39 year old newspaper reporter on a local Kent paper, consigned in 1957 to writing columns on gardening and recipes. She lives a life of duty, at home taking care of her fairly awful mother, who does everything she can to ensure that Jean has no life that doesn’t involve her, and in her community helping her neighbours.
As the title makes clear, joy can only be found through small pleasures. The trinkets she hides away in a drawer, unused, only to be looked at, as small moments of respite from her life. Then a family come bursting into her existence, when Gretchen Tilbury writes to the paper claiming that her daughter was the result of a virgin birth. Jean sets out to meet her and to prove or disprove the story, and is charmed by Gretchen’s daughter Margaret and Gretchen’s husband Howard.
This beautiful book is perfectly executed and exactly captures what it feels like to fall in love. When a person’s touch sends electric currents through your skin, when you can just be you and say everything you want to say without fear of judgement or overthinking. When you don’t care where you are or what you are doing as long as you are with them.
This is a glorious novel which must be savoured as it builds beautifully to its dramatic and inevitable ending.