A review of the novel “Ordinary People” by Diana Evans

In the United States in 1976, there was the publication of a novel called “Ordinary People” by Judith Guest which four years later was made into a film of the same title that won four Academy Awards. I saw the film before then reading the book. In Britain in 2018, there was the publication of another novel called “Ordinary People” but this time the author is Diana Evans and the locale and characters are very different and the title borrows from a 2005 track by the singer John Legend.

The first novel involved an affluent white American family dealing with two traumatic events. The more recent novel revolves around two black British families facing the more ‘ordinary’ challenges of relationships and childrearing. Both novels are set over a year and, in the later case, the chronology is bookended by the election of Barack Obama and the death of Michael Jackson in 2008/09.

Melissa and Michael have been together 13 years, have two children, and live in the Bell Green part of south London. Damian and Stephanie are married with three children and live on the outskirts of Dorking. Both couples are in their late 30s. The issues that they face might seem quotidian but Evans has a wonderful writing style that makes this an enjoyable read even if there is no easy resolution on offer.

Evans is the daughter of a Nigerian mother and an English father and grew up in Neasden, north-west London. Her knowledge of the capital imbues the narrative as she writes of “one of those Londoners who perceived the south as another state” and comments that “London does not know what to do with snow”, while she captures well the struggles of modern urban life – especially for a woman – as she refers to “the strangulating domesticity” of a relationship and opines that “motherhood is an obliteration of the self”.


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