Ordinary People: A love story, a horror, a page-turner

Book review: The climax of the story pulls it in an unexpected direction of sinister happenings

Diana Evans: Ordinary People has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Diana Evans: Ordinary People has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Literary awards are good for authors who make the grade, but not always for their readers: they can create a greater weight of expectation than the book can bear. Diana Evans’ third novel Ordinary People has, at the time of writing, been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, and longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction. Does it keep these promises made on its behalf?

To begin with, the effects are mixed. There is a lot of backstory, and for the first quarter of the novel it feels as though it isn’t going anywhere. But even then, when the story is stuck in the past, Evans brings her characters out with verve and aplomb: we’re in the orbit of two couples in Bell Green, south London. Michael and Melissa have been together for 12 years and have two children; Stephanie and Damien have three.

The language Evans uses to introduce them and their world is casual, loose, glittering with detail and tossed-off characterisation. Here she is creating a grotesque of a midwife in one sentence: “She appeared as a fixture of a nightmare, white hairs flailing out of her hat, a pink, tired face with one eye higher than the other and a cruel walk, a careless stomping, as if in the many years of her midwifery she had used up all of her sympathy and now it was just plain old work.”

The Irish Times
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