Following the lives two couples at the make or break juncture of their respective relationships, Ordinary People examines themes of parenthood, friendships, grief, love and identity.
Michael and Melissa are the ‘It’ couple, envied by their friends but with a new baby the cracks have already begun to settle in their relationship. Melissa misses the life she had before children and domesticity, and though Michael still loves her, he’s finding it hard to stay faithful. His friend Damien is not coping well after the death of his father, and his relationship with his wife Stephanie is faltering as result – not helped by the fact that he is secretly in love in Melissa. Stephanie just wants a happy, normal life with Damien and their three children, but his distance towards them is reaching a critical point.
Despite the subject matter this was a warm and witty read. The characters weren’t always sympathetic especially in the way they treated one another, but they were relatable. For every moment that one of the characters (usually Michael) said or did something stupid, it was followed by a comment or an insight that had me thinking “same”. Diana Evans captures London life and paints her characters with such clarity that you recognise them instantly. They are after all ordinary people.
Speaking of which, my favourite aspect of the novel was that it was set to the John Legend album Ordinary People. Michael spends much of his time listening to the album, identifying himself with the persona depicted in the songs: lover, player, cheater, and eventually loyal and committed. It certainly put a different slant on both the album and the novel, and I found myself listening to it alongside reading which made for a unique experience.
Overall this was a great read with some stand-out funny moments such as Melissa’s instructions to Michael ‘to listen for the rice’, which he fails at, and also some really poignant, sad moments, like Damien’s struggle to come to terms with the death of his father. Evans’ depiction of how grief can overtake a person without them even realising it was powerfully and sensitively written, and possibly formed my favourite parts of the book.