Book review: Small Pleasures

Image of Small Pleasures - a book by Clare Chambers
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – such a beautiful cover!

This book has been on my radar for some time, but when I listened to the author speaking on Francesca Steele’s podcast, I bumped it to the top of the TBR pile.

Small Pleasures is the story of Joan Swinney, a journalist investigating a claim of immaculate conception in 1950s London.

Joan’s existence consists of ‘small pleasures’ – she cares for her mother, tends her garden and writes tips for the local paper.

All that changes when she meets Gretchen Tilbury, who contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth.

As Jean investigates, she becomes entangled with the Tilbury family – Gretchen, her husband, Howard, and Margaret, the child at the centre of the controversy.

Small Pleasures is a slow burn – it’s beautifully written, tender and understated, with plenty of period detail and shrewd observations. It isn’t difficult to see why it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.

I was drawn to Jean’s character – she’s a pragmatic, down-to-earth type who perhaps finds it difficult to consider her own needs. The relationships in the novel are well drawn and moving, and whilst I saw the ending coming, it still packed a substantial emotional punch.

Lastly, I noticed that this book was featured amongst the “Most read of LGBT” on Goodreads. I’d struggle to describe it as a sapphic book – there are sapphic characters, but it’s not a big part of the plot.

Overall, a great read if you like a slow burn that examines the complexities of relationships and the possibility of a second chance at happiness.

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