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.
This was a book recommended by BBC Between The Covers book club and Anne Cater on Random Things and as I had a spare audio credit I thought it would be a perfect listen and escape from reality.
Narrated by the wonderful Karen Cass, Small Pleasures is a stunning story about love, loss and duty in the mid 50’s.
The main character Jean Swinney is approaching 40, unmarried and living with her cantankerous mother in London. She works as an investigative reporter for the local paper and cares for her demanding mother with patience and a sense of duty as her sister lives happily married in another country.
When the newspaper receive a letter from a young woman claiming her daughter was a miracle birth, Jean is tasked with uncovering the truth and investigating this story. What Jean doesn’t expect when meeting Gretchen, her husband Howard and the little girl Margaret is to become so involved personally that her feelings and emotions start to affect any logic or common sense as she becomes entwined in their lives.
Small Pleasures is a slow burner of a story and throughout the book each character is revealed in more detail allowing the reader to be taken on an emotional journey with Jean as she tries to find the happiness and love that she deserves.
My heart broke in places and I loved this story and thoroughly recommend it.
Clare Chambers was born on 1966 in in Croydon, Surrey, England, UK, daughter of English teachers. She attended a school in Croydon. At 16, she met Peter, her future husband, a teacher 14 years old than her. She read English at Oxford. The marriage moved to New Zealand, where she wrote her first novel. She now lives in Kent with her husband and young family. In 1999, her novel Learning to Swim won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association