Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
10/12/21; 352 pages
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers is a highly recommended period piece set in 1957 England.
Jean Swinney, forty, is an intelligent feature writer on a local London paper who takes on the task of investigating the claims made by a woman who wrote to the paper claiming that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth. Swiss born Gretchen Tilbury, allows Jean to come visit and talk to her about her claims. She also meets her ten-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Howard. Jean arranges for Gretchen and Margaret to undergo medical tests to prove if parthenogenesis actually took place, which they willingly do. As Jean investigates Gretchen's claims, she finds herself becoming friends with the family and attracted to Howard. Her burgeoning relationship with the family provides Jean with a much needed social outlet. After years of dutifully caring for her demanding mother, the family's welcoming Jean into their lives allows her what seems like a chance at happiness.
The period of time, 1957 post-war London is captured perfectly as is
Jean's finding small pleasures in the simple, ordinary things in life.
The characters are fully realized and depicted as individuals with their
own abilities, foibles, and talents. Most importantly, they are firmly
placed in the time period and setting Chambers sets forth. You will wish
happiness for Jean. Gretchen is always pleasant but an enigma. Margaret
is delightful and Henry is seemingly a perfect match for Jean. Jean's mother is
agoraphobic and demanding, wanting Jean to attend to her needs. All of the characters have secrets
The writing is excellent, descriptive, realistic, and sympathetic. There are two story lines in Small Pleasures,
the question of the virgin birth and Jean's loneliness, and both are
giving consideration. I was more interested in the mystery, but that
didn't detract my appreciation of the other story line. I will admit
that the pace did feel rather slow. The ending is heartbreaking although