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Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers - Review

Monday, May 23, 2022

This was another book club book, and it's actually the one I chose! I bought it last April when Waterstones had just opened up again in Meadowhall, I think it was on buy one get one half price. I didn't read it in 2021 so when it came to choosing books for book club in 2022 I chose this. Coincidentally someone else did too, it was one of Lynn's choices. It seems like such an ideal book for a book club, which the publisher must agree with because there's book club questions at the back of this copy. This will be useful for me when it comes to book club!

The book is set in 1957 and the main character is Jean. She is one of the only female staff on the North Kent Echo. She enjoys her job as a journalist, mostly. She lives with her widowed mother; her sister Dorrie emmigrated to Kenya with her husband and they only hear from her sporadically. Jean's mother is difficult to say the least, unwilling to leave the house and increasingly demanding within it. Jean spends all her time, energy and money on dealing with her money. She can't go out with her colleagues for a drink on a Friday night. She is thirty-nine and seems to be quite depressed, having accepted her lot but not being too please about it. 

The paper receives a letter from a Mrs Gretchen Tilbury, alleging that her daughter was the product of a Virgin Birth. The letter seems quite credible, so Jean's boss sends her off on the story. Jean goes to meet Gretchen and the little girl, Mary, who's around ten, and Gretchen's husband, Howard. Gretchen was ill as a teenager and was in hospital at around the time that she must have conceived. She was on a ward with three other girls and particular friends with a girl called Martha. Jean tries to contact the other girls and also the Matron of the ward.

Everyone seems to agree that Gretchen is a credible witness and that she could be telling the truth. There are certain scientific tests that can be done, so Gretchen and Mary and Jean go to London for some of those. Howard owns a jewellery shop near the Strand, and Jean calls in on him a couple of times. She also visits the family at home and ends up becoming close to all of them. She must engineer time away from her mother carefully, but as she becomes freer and freer she is too close to the story really as it develops.

I don't want to give away much more of the story as I liked watching it unfold. There are parellels between Jean's life and Gretchen's and, as it turns out, between Jean's and her mother's. I liked Jean a lot and really felt like the reader understood her and her motivations. I felt sorry for her, too. I think generally my book club will have enjoyed the book, I'm looking forward to our meeting!

I'm giving this five out of five and I'm also going to lend it to my mum I think!

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