Small Pleasures

by Clare Chambers

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LoveReading Expert Review of Small Pleasures

A beautiful, bittersweet story of loneliness, longing and love sewn up in an exquisite mystery - you won’t want this mid-century treasure to end.

Hauntingly tender, and written with powerful grace, Clare Chambers’s Small Pleasures is an absolute joy from start to finish. It’s 1957 in suburban Kent, where Jean writes for a local newspaper with every aspect of her life still dominated by her contrary, controlling mother as Jean approaches forty. No post-work drinks with colleagues. No friends. No romance. Enter Gretchen Tilbury, an elegant Swiss woman who writes to the paper claiming her daughter was the result of a virgin birth. As Jean investigates the case, she becomes close to Gretchen, her kind, witty husband Howard, and the alleged miraculous daughter, all four of them finding comfortable joy in each other’s company. “You’ve stirred us out of our routine,” Howard remarks, to which Jean responds, “I would have thought it was the other way about.”

While researching Gretchen’s youth, Jean inadvertently sends shockwaves through the Tilbury family when she reconnects Gretchen to a powerful figure from her past. At the same time, she and Howard find themselves falling for each other, both of them remaining faithful to Gretchen, graciously skirting their attraction - until it’s right to act.

The novel features some of the most finely drawn, endearing characters I’ve encountered in recent contemporary fiction. For all her lonely frustration, Jean isn’t one to wallow. She’s pragmatic, with ripples of not-quite-regret lapping beneath her smooth, reasoned surface - a woman “who took pride in her ability to conceal unruly emotions.” Her domesticity pieces for the paper have something of Carrie Bradshaw’s musings about them, albeit without any in-your-face sex in the city (or the suburbs, in Jean’s case), with their apparently humdrum themes humorously paralleling soul-stirring events in her own life.

Laying bare a quivering three-way tug between obligation, propriety and passion, and the inexplicable way thunderbolt-bonds are formed between similar-souled individuals, Jean’s conflicts and chance to love truly get under your skin. What a remarkable book, with a dagger-sharp climax that will pierce your heart.

Joanne Owen

Small Pleasures Synopsis

1957, south-east suburbs of London.

Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and - on the brink of forty - 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.

What To Read After Small Pleasures

The Widow's Secret
Manhattan Beach
Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone
The Familiars

Clare Chambers Press Reviews

PRAISE FOR CLARE CHAMBERS 'Clare Chambers is a diamond in the dust' Independent on Sunday 'Clare Chambers' characters are so vivid that, by the end of the book, they feel like old friends' Daily Mail This is one of the most tender, beautiful books I have ever read. Please, please order it now for July. I honestly don't want you to be without it. It is exquisite. - Lucy Mangan

Small Pleasures is the best sort of book: full of longing, regret and difficult emotions but leavened with so much warmth and humour it was a joy from start to finish. - Francesca Jakobi, author of BITTER

A delicious mystery and a touching exploration of loneliness and desire in cloying 1950s suburbia - a great read. - Sally Magnusson, author of THE SEALWOMAN'S GIFT

Small Pleasures is a gorgeous treat of a novel: the premise is fascinating, the characters beautifully drawn and utterly compelling, the period setting masterfully and delicately evoked, and the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns. And oh, the finale broke my heart. I just couldn't put this novel down. - Laura Barnett, #1 bestselling author of THE VERSIONS OF US

Small Pleasures is a tender and heart-rending tale that will draw you in from the first page and keep you gripped until the very end. Exquisitely compelling! - Ruth Hogan, author of THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS

The must-read uplifting book of the summer. - WEST END LANE BOOKSHOP

I adored Small Pleasures. It's engrossing and gripping: you want to race on and relish every sentence at the same time. I love the way Clare writes - her wry, subtle turns of phrase, the humour in the smallest of observations, the finely drawn characters. A wonderful book' - Sabine Durrant, author of LIE WITH ME

Clare Chambers is that rare thing, a novelist of discreet hilarity, deep compassion and stiletto wit whose perspicacious account of suburban lives with their quiet desperation and unexpected passion makes her the 21st century heir to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor. Small Pleasures is both gripping and a huge delight. I loved what she did with the trope of the claim of a virgin birth, and how the hope of a miracle opens the door to love, kindness and hope in an arid existence. This is better than Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and deserves just as much acclaim. - Amanda Craig, author of THE LIE OF THE LAND

The glorious literary equivalent of pulling the duvet over your head... Both an absorbing mystery and a tender love story - and the ending is devastating. Chambers is a writer who finds the truth in things. If you admire Tessa Hadley or Anne Tyler (and there are shades of Barbara Pym too), then this is one for you. -- Alice O'Keefe - The Bookseller, Book of the Month

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781474613903
Publication date: 29/04/2021
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781474613880
Publication date: 09/07/2020
Format: Hardback

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About Clare Chambers

Clare Chambers was born in 1966, attended a school in Croydon, read English at Oxford and wrote her first novel while she was living in New Zealand. She is the author of Back Trouble, A Dry Spell and Learning to Swim, which won the 1998 Parker Romantic Novel of the Year award. She now lives in Kent with her husband and young family.  

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