Thursday, 30 May 2019

Ordinary People by Diana Evans

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Sometimes in the lives of ordinary people, there is a great halt, a revelation, a moment of change. It occurs under low metal skies, never when one is happy.

Diana Evans' Ordinary People is the slow meandering study of the dissolution of two marriages.

It’s been done before, of course. But these four people are not the usual white suburbanites of such tales. They are Black Londoners. And that changes the texture of the story and the nature of the strains upon their marriage. Michael and Melissa, Damian and Stephanie come from the kind of backgrounds that Afua Hirsch writes about in Brit(ish) or Akala in Natives. Melissa’s mother is a Nigerian women, who still carries with her elements of her traditional beliefs. Damian’s father is a Jamaican man who was often too wrapped up in the struggle against racism to remember to be a father ...

The story opens with the election of Obama and is rocked by the death of Michael Jackson. Over and above the usual strains on married life - money, work, bringing up children - lie  whole other set of pressures. When a young black kid is stabbed on Michael and Melissa’s patch, there is a tension between Melissa’s visceral need to get away from London’s knife crime and the threat it poses to her children, and Michael’s need to live among people who look like him.

Yet this is very much London. Michael and Melissa live on the edge of Crystal Park, and the slow disintegration of the once magnificent Great Exhibition becomes a metaphor for the disintegration of their marriage – even as it reminds us of the role of Empire in bringing Black people to live in Britain. (“We are here because you were there,” as Stuart Hall once said.) It manifests itself in a kind of haunting of their house, where they both feel increasingly out of place.

Evans’ situation may be domestic, but her language is lyrical: “Long clouds lay out, some moving and pink and slipping away, and at one end, in the south, the mood slid full, round and golden into a case of silver wisps, until it was swallowed, whole.”

The style of the writing is close and intimate – and yet at the same time, slightly detached, as if we were a roving camera following the four characters around, without ever quite slipping inside them.

“His love for her was still deep and wide, it shattered him, it was destroying him.”

In the end, the pathos of the story lies in the fact that love on its own is not always enough to sustain a marriage.

Shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Literature

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Celeste Ng, Carole Shields, Anne Tyler

Avoid If You Dislike:
Intimate inspections of a marriage

Perfect Accompaniment: Barbecued pork belly and rather too much beer

Genre: Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon

No comments:

Post a Comment