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Small Pleasures

by Clare Chambers

Family Drama Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Modern and Contemporary Fiction Relationship Stories Star Books Thriller and Suspense

LoveReading View on Small Pleasures

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.

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Small Pleasures Press Reviews

BOOK OF THE YEAR FOR THE TIMES, DAILY TELEGRAPH, EVENING STANDARD, DAILY EXPRESS, METRO, SPECTATOR, RED MAGAZINE AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

‘A WORD-OF-MOUTH HIT’ Evening Standard

‘A very fine book… It’s witty and sharp and reads like something by Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, without ever feeling like a pastiche’ David Nicholls

‘Perfect’ India Knight

‘Beautiful’ Jessie Burton

‘Wonderful’ Richard Osman

‘Miraculous’ Tracy Chevalier

‘A wonderful novel. I loved it’ Nina Stibbe

‘Effortless to read, but every sentence lingers in the mind’ Lissa Evans

‘This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I honestly don’t want you to be without it’ Lucy Mangan

‘Gorgeous… If you’re looking for something escapist and bittersweet, I could not recommend more’ Pandora Sykes

‘Remarkable… Small Pleasures is no small pleasure’ The Times

‘An irresistible novel – wry, perceptive and quietly devastating’ Mail on Sunday

‘Chambers’ eye for undemonstrative details achieves a Larkin-esque lucidity’ Guardian

‘An almost flawlessly written tale of genuine, grown-up romantic anguish’ The Sunday Times

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781474613903
Publication date: 29/04/2021
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781474613880
Publication date: 09/07/2020
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781474613903
Publication date: 29th April 2021
Author: Clare Chambers
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson an imprint of Orion Publishing Co
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 368 pages
Genres: Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Modern and Contemporary Fiction, Relationship Stories, Star Books, Thriller / Suspense,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Historical fiction, Romance, Thriller / suspense,

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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