South London, 2008. Two couples find themselves at a moment of reckoning. Melissa has a new baby and doesn’t want to let it change her, but in the crooked walls of a narrow Victorian terrace, she begins to disappear. Michael, growing daily more accustomed to his commute, still loves Melissa but can’t quite get close enough to her to stay faithful.
Meanwhile, out in the suburbs, Stephanie is happy with Damian and their three children, but the death of Damian’s father has thrown him into crisis – or is it something, or someone, else? Are they all just in the wrong place? Are any of them prepared to take the leap?
Set against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s election victory, Ordinary People is an intimate study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and aging, and the fragility of love. With its distinctive prose and irresistible soundtrack, it is the story of our lives and those moments that threaten to unravel us.
This book deals with themes including love, sex, and grief. Appropriate for 16+ readers.
Watch Diana Evans discuss Ordinary People, published by Chatto & Windus.
"Evans excels, bringing to vivid life a capacious social world while simultaneously commenting on it." New York Times
"I am shouting from the rooftops to anyone who will listen about this book. It's so so good - realistic and funny and so truthful it almost winded me." Dolly Alderton
"Diana Evans is a lyrical and glorious writer; a precise poet of the human heart." Naomi Alderman
"Evans writes with great humour and insight… a deftly observed, elegiac portrayal of modern marriage, and the private – often painful – quest for identity and fulfilment in all its various guises." The Observer
Get to know Diana Evans
Diana Evans is a British author of Nigerian and English descent. Her third novel, Ordinary People was a New Yorker, New Statesman and Financial Times book of the year. It was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, the Rathebones Folio Prize and the Orwell Prize for Politicial Fiction. It also won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature.
Evans is a former dancer. As a journalist she has contributed to Time Magazine, Marie Claire, The Independent, The Guardian, Harper Bazaar and The New York Review of Books.
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- My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)
- The Colour Purple, Alice Walker (Orion Publishing)
- An American Marriage, Tayari Jones (Oneworld Publications)
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Book club questions
- The book opens with Obama’s election and closes with Michael Jackson’s death. How important are these historical moments to the novel?
- How does the author show the importance of race to the characters’ identities?
- The house takes on a character of its own. How does it reflect the conflict within the family?
- How important is the theme of being a mother in the novel?
- Throughout the course of the novel, how does the relationship between Conrad and his father change?
- Was it the right decision for Beth to leave Calvin and Conrad? Were the reactions of the other characters surprising? If so, why?
Writing advice from Diana Evans
- Write according to your own strengths and instincts.
If it suits you to write at night, do it that way. If you’re more of an office-hours writer, adopt that structure instead. Some writers can only work on one thing at a time while others need to work on several. Some work in cafes and libraries and others in solitude. There is no right or wrong way to write. Only consistency and commitment are the common prerequisites.
- Follow scenes through to completion or exhaustion.
Don’t hold back when you’re writing. Let out every intriguing idea or image that wants to come out and avoid the limitations of neatness in the early stages. There’s lots of time for neatness and perfecting during revisions.
- Try not to write like Tolstoy/Yates/Rhys/Dickens/Morrison or whoever it is that you adore.
Take inspiration without imitation. No one can write like you can because everyone has a different and particular voice. Write the kinds of books you’d like to read. Fill the gaps. Always aim for something new that does not yet exist.
- Lots of writing happens in not writing.
Sometimes more can be achieved in half an hour of driving/shopping/walking/dancing than during an entire day at the desk. The mind loosens and the work marinates, and when you go back to it some problem or barrier has been solved all by itself.
- Read copiously, every day. Writers need words to make worlds.
The words are food. Reading keeps us in touch with rhythm and pace, voice, image and how stories work. Read a variety of genres and forms: plays, novels, short stories, nonfiction. Keep a notebook by your side and always take the note when it asks to be taken.