LONGLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2021
'A WORD-OF-MOUTH HIT' Evening Standard
'A very fine book... It's witty and sharp and reads like something by Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, without ever feeling like a pastiche'
'A wonderful novel. I loved it'
'Effortless to read, but every sentence lingers in the mind'
'This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I honestly don't want you to be without it'
'Gorgeous... If you're looking for something escapist and bittersweet, I could not recommend more'
'Remarkable... Small Pleasures is no small pleasure'
'An irresistible novel - wry, perceptive and quietly devastating'
Mail on Sunday
'Chambers' eye for undemonstrative details achieves a Larkin-esque lucidity'
'An almost flawlessly written tale of genuine, grown-up romantic anguish'
The Sunday Times
1957, the suburbs of South East London. Jean Swinney is a journalist on a local paper, trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there is no likelihood of escape.
When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.
As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and - possibly - happiness.
But there will, inevitably, be a price to pay.
Book of the Year for: The Times, Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, Daily Express, Metro, Spectator, Red Magazine and Good Housekeeping
In Chambers's affecting latest (after the YA mystery Burning Secrets), the year is 1957 and Jean Swinney is a single Englishwoman approaching 40 who cares for her demanding mother and lives for the small pleasures in life—like pottering in her vegetable patch or loosening her girdle at the end of the day. Jean works as features editor for the North Kent Echo. Her new assignment is to interview Gretchen Tilbury, who claims to have delivered a child through virgin birth. Wanting to keep an open mind, Jean meets with the no-nonsense Gretchen, who was confined to an all-female nursing home, St. Cecilia's, with rheumatoid arthritis at the time of conception. Jean also meets Gretchen's charming 10-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her dedicated husband, Howard. Jean arranges for Gretchen and Margaret to undergo medical tests at Charing Cross Hospital to prove if parthenogenesis actually took place. As the months pass, Jean becomes more and more enmeshed in the lives of the Tilbury family even as her friendship with Howard threatens to turn into something more. Chambers does an excellent job of recreating the austere texture of post-WWII England. In Jean, the author creates a character who strives admirably to escape her cloistered existence. Chambers plays fair with Gretchen's mystery, tenderly illuminating the hidden yearnings of small lives.