If Ordinary People is about compromise, it is also about how we live today and, refreshingly, Evans shows this through the prism of black and mixed-race identities, conjuring an urban milieu that is middle-class and non-white ... the soap-opera trajectory of Evans’s Ordinary People has a movie quality. It could easily be reimagined for the screen, though the film would not capture the sheer energy and effervescence of Evans’s funny, sad, magnificent prose.
But the agony of ordinary life is also what makes Ordinary People an absorbing read. Evans gives us an entirely believable account of relationships, recognising how they defeat us, encircle us and leave us gasping for air ... Evans presents a sympathetic and smartly satirical portrait of metropolitan-minded thirtysomethings, as they come to terms with their thwarted youth and wilted ambitions ... The fact of race is always there in the novel — Melissa, Michael and Damian variously reflect on their heritage — but there is something radical in how Evans depicts the ordinary lives of young black people, faithfully, fully and quietly.
Diana Evans’s third novel, Ordinary People, begins with a glamorous London bash celebrating the 2008 election of Barack Obama. It’s a dazzling opening scene studded with the sharp observations at which Evans excels, bringing to vivid life a capacious social world while simultaneously commenting on it ... Ordinary People doesn’t turn out to be the big, meaty social novel that the first pages promise, but a rambling, smallish drama of domesticity and its discontents ... Alas, readers may be less beguiled by [protagonist] Melissa, the linchpin of this novel, than the other characters seem to be ... Searching, dissatisfied women have traditionally made fascinating heroines because they’ve challenged stultifying cultural scripts. But the most intriguing character in Ordinary People isn’t Melissa, chafing at constraints and looking for someone to blame. It’s cleareyed Stephanie, who has surveyed the options, chosen her life and accepted its limitations. Initially, her 'aptitude for contentment' seems less seductive and mysterious than Melissa’s restlessness. By the end of this novel, it seems far more so.
Evans zooms out to build her characters’ culturally rich backstories as they struggle to recognize their older selves and the relationships that have aged along with them. A probing, entertaining, and self-affirming novel of men and women getting relatably lost in the crises and hauntings of early midlife.
Race is essential to these characters’ lives, but Evans’s delicate prose weaves issues of racial identity and politics into the narrative so that they never feel heavy-handed ... Evans writes with great humour and insight about the monotony of caring for small children, and provides a sharp psychological portrayal of the disenchantment and estrangement of long-term relationships. Although the first half of the novel suffers from an excess of backstory, which interrupts the sense of quiet urgency she has introduced in her characters, Ordinary People is nonetheless a deftly observed, elegiac portrayal of modern marriage, and the private – often painful – quest for identity and fulfilment in all its various guises.
Evans expertly pokes at the tender spots in relationships and examines how partners can behave in ways that, over time, make them strangers to each other ... Through all this, Evans is no purveyor of false optimism about the prospects of success for these troubled pairings. Instead, we’re left to ponder and admire the qualities that enable any long-term union to thrive.
Ordinary People in many ways resembles a traditional novel: realistic, concerned with social mores and psychological states, full of sharp descriptive language. Still, if you asked its characters to account for their unhappiness, they might complain that their lives don’t feel sufficiently plotted, especially compared to the artistic and media narratives that they consume ... This sense of being un- or under-written raises the spectre of another English author, Rachel Cusk ... It’s possible to read Ordinary People, too, as a reply to Cusk ... Despite its apparent traditionalism, the book itself resists the conventions of steadily rising action or dénouement ... These choices create mini-ruptures, but they don’t produce the novel’s most heightened moments, which are to be found, instead, in passages of exceptionally sensitive writing ... There is a richness to the novel’s smaller units, its phrases and passing moods ... [There is] a surprising, convulsive twist ... But it succeeds as an expression of the couple’s desperation and a glimpse at how the slog of domesticity can turn to phantasmagoria.
This impressively controlled tale of marital disharmony, parental ambivalence and lost identity opens with a party to celebrate Barack Obama’s 2008 win. Sexual frustration and the tyranny of domestic tasks lead to infidelities; the couples’ middle-class problems play out against a backdrop of knife crime and a gothic haunting. There’s a deep underlying sadness here, but it’s a rewarding and ruthlessly funny novel.
Most of the time Evans' writing is accurate as she moves from the small details of domestic life to larger ideas—feminism, urban life, black identity ... At other moments, Evans’ narrative choices seem perplexing, such as her use of the slang phrase 'off the hizzle' as a refrain; it seems dated and less cool on the page than when emanating from the mouth of Snoop Dogg circa 2005. In fact, the biggest weakness of an otherwise astute novel is Evans' occasional overreliance on pop culture ... Evans frankly and unflinchingly depicts a romance overwhelmed by the ennui of everyday life.
There is a lot of backstory, and for the first quarter of the novel it feels as though it isn’t going anywhere. But even then, when the story is stuck in the past, Evans brings her characters out with verve and aplomb ... The language Evans uses to introduce them and their world is casual, loose, glittering with detail and tossed-off characterisation ... delivers a persuasive portrayal of middle-class life in multicultural Britain ... The energy and flow of Evans’ writing in describing contemporary life is one of the prime appeals ... Occasionally exuberance overtakes sense and Evans’ desire not to use clichés makes the reader stumble ... a love story; a horror story; a page-turner ... In the end it’s the human story that wins the reader over and makes the plaudits seem deserved.
With penetrating emotional and psychological observations, Evans creates a realistic portrayal of the couples as they struggle to redefine commitment. Readers looking for careful studies of relationship dynamics will find much to contemplate.