This is a novel about women’s lives, and Chambers reveals their many and complex histories alongside Jean’s household tips, but in the same highly restrained tone. The effect is one of great authenticity, as Chambers exposes life experiences that belie the genteel tone of the novel while continuing to conform to it ... The writing is so unassuming that it would be easy to miss how accomplished it is. Cliches are skilfully avoided and the atmosphere is richly portrayed ... Small Pleasures is an unusual novel. A perfectly pitched period piece, with an intriguing mystery driving it and a deeply affecting love story at its heart, it’s also a novel about the messy truths of women’s lives and their courage in making the best of that mess.
... although the mystery of the virgin birth drives the plot along, it becomes an almost incidental backdrop in a novel that is quietly affecting in unexpected ways ... Again and again characters choose over happiness, as Chambers examines, sympathetically and incisively, how much self-sacrifice people should bear at the expense of their personal freedom ... The most captivating glimpse of Jean’s oppressive self-denial comes during a weeklong trip with her mother to a coastal town, where they are stranded indoors along with other hotel guests during a heavy rain. The holiday is depicted with such sharp hilarity, including scenes of the endlessly complaining elderly Mrs. Swinney, it could be unfolding in a Jane Austen drawing room ... After sensitively elucidating her characters’ private hopes, Chambers proceeds to crush them in a series of cruel little twists ... With discreet wit and dry humor, Chambers captures the hypocrisy of an era that was so punitive for women ... Chambers reproduces the everyday minutiae of postwar British suburbia, from a dust-colored wool skirt to a pudding made of tinned pears and evaporated milk. Her language is beautiful, achieving what only the most skilled writers can: big pleasure wrought from small details.
What’s clever about Chambers’s well-tempered novel is its undercurrent of sex and danger ... Small Pleasures is an almost flawlessly written tale of genuine, grown-up romantic anguish. Written in prose that is clipped as closely as suburban hedges, this is a book about seemingly mild people concealing turbulent feelings ... One of the great strengths of the book is its tender, atmospheric descriptions of England ... Small Pleasures succeeds in creating one of those enclosed fictional worlds that, however desolate, has its own rules, its own flavour and its own charm.