Small Pleasures: A Novel (Paperback)
In the best tradition of Tessa Hadley, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ann Patchett—an astonishing, keenly observed period piece about an ordinary British woman in the 1950s whose dutiful life takes a sudden turn into a pitched battle between propriety and unexpected passion.
"With wit and dry humor...quietly affecting in unexpected ways. Chambers' language is beautiful, achieving what only the most skilled writers can: big pleasure wrought from small details."--The New York Times
LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
1957: Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper in the southeast suburbs of London. Clever but with limited career opportunities and on the brink of forty, Jean lives a dreary existence that includes caring for her demanding widowed mother, who rarely leaves the house. It’s a small life with little joy and no likelihood of escape.
That all changes when a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth. Jean seizes onto the bizarre story and sets out to discover whether Gretchen 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, including Gretchen’s gentle and thoughtful husband Howard, who mostly believes his wife, and their quirky and charming daughter Margaret, who becomes a sort of surrogate child for Jean. Gretchen, too, becomes a much-needed friend in an otherwise empty social life.
Jean cannot bring herself to discard what seems like her one chance at happiness, even as the story that she is researching starts to send dark ripples across all their lives…with unimaginable consequences.
Both a mystery and a love story, Small Pleasures is a literary tour-de-force in the style of The Remains of the Day, about conflict between personal fulfillment and duty; a novel that celebrates the beauty and potential for joy in all things plain and unfashionable.
“Gripping...penetrates the secret hopes and passionate inner lives of ordinary working people. The characters provoke so much empathy, readers may have trouble remembering that they’re fictional.” — Booklist
“Small Pleasures is an almost flawlessly written tale of genuine, grown-up romantic anguish. Written in prose that is clipped as closely as suburban hedges, this is a book about seemingly mild people concealing turbulent feelings.” — Johanna Thomas-Corr, Sunday Times
“I've had about five people recommend this to me, which is quite rare... It's a novel about the last throw of the dice, the last chance perhaps of finding a life of happiness when you’ve had a struggle. The writing is beautiful. This is also the first novel Chambers has written for 10 years, which I find really inspiring—she’s come back with this absolute humdinger. It’s just so nice to read a book by someone who’s so confident with their talent.” — Jessie Burton, bestselling author of The Miniaturist
“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
“Part mystery, part love story, part reflection on changing attitudes to sexuality in post-war Britain, Small Pleasures is a disarmingly gentle read that quietly builds to a devastating conclusion.” — The Scotsman
"With wit and dry humor...quietly affecting in unexpected ways. Chambers' language is beautiful, achieving what only the most skilled writers can: big pleasure wrought from small details." — New York Times
“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, bestselling author of One Day
"An irresistible novel—wry, perceptive and quietly devastating." — Hephzibah Anderson, Mail on Sunday
“A brilliant book… A love story between people who are not usually the leading players in love story… I found it incredibly absorbing." — Kathleen MacMahon, The Irish Times