by Clare Chambers
Championed by Janet Emson at First Page to Last
W&N (July 20)
I started my blog in January 2014, and since then it has developed a lot with regular author Q&As, guest posts, and other features. One of my favourites is Under the Reader’s Radar, which shines a spotlight on books that may have passed readers by.
Blogging has opened my eyes to many different books and has also led to some great opportunities: being a judge for Noirville, a short story competition ran by Fahrenheit Press, and part of the shadow panel for the Comedy Women in Print Awards in 2020. More importantly, blogging has introduced me to the wonderful book community. Reading can be a solitary activity, but I know I’m never far away from a friendly and warm group of like-minded book lovers.
“Small Pleasures shows the awakening of feeling long believed to be dormant and that life is indeed made up of a series of small pleasures, if only we look out for them.”
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
Small Pleasures grabs hold of the reader and makes them want to wallow in it until the end. It is both comforting and uncomfortable.
The mystery behind Margaret’s conception is only one of the threads of narrative but it is the catalyst for so many of the changes to Jean’s life. With it comes a heavy burden. Jean has befriended the Tilburys, has become protective of them and doesn’t want to see their lives splashed about on the front page. Yet she has a job to do and so she investigates, looking back to the time of Margaret’s conception, uncovering the truth, about Gretchen, and herself, in the process.
The reader is transported back in time to a country still dazed by the war. It’s easy to imagine the shiny steps, scrubbed by Jean as her mother looks on, visitors with wicker baskets carrying jam, lamb’s hearts for dinner, coal fires and antimacassars, rooms saved only for best. Steam trains and diesel trains colliding together, literally and metaphorically showing a time on the cusp of the old and the new.
Jean, nearly forty, is resigned to her fate as a spinster, a routine of work and home, with nothing in between. Her colleagues have stopped asking her to join them at the pub. Having to go home to her mother curtails any freedoms she may have. The pair go on holiday and seeing a woman with her aged mother, Jean sees her own future laid out. The Tilburys offer a lifeline, a way out, and Jean eagerly grabs hold.
It is always hard to review a novel without giving too much of the plot away. It is even harder when the plot is so intrinsic to the characters and the feel of the novel. Pick up the book, be tempted by those bright fruits, read the first few pages and you’ll understand the feel of the story straight away. It is comforting and intriguing – a perfect combination – and there is a warmth that suffuses this novel, with small pleasures to be found on each page.
Small Pleasures is a kind, compassionate, bittersweet tale of love, friendship and acceptance. The ending, when it comes, will be one that divides readers. It is though, perhaps, the one we deserve.