... 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.
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.
... a fresh release from a well-loved author can often be the most gratifying. It is in this light Claire Chambers, a writer who has established herself as a prominent and accomplished novelist with a wide audience, has come through once more with her latest book ... Chambers prides story above all else, and moves immediately into the action from the opening pages. Our protagonist, Jean, is a refreshingly original one ... Chambers’ straightforward and useful narrative patterning creates an accessible, relatable story that never allows itself to become sidetracked or drawn astray. Moving with the brisk pace of a London morning, we follow Jean across the plot from scene to scene, often opening with a specific moment before transitioning into exposition designed to inform the audience of the internal and external events since the last chapter. While it is an approach that takes few chances in style or form, it has an obvious and fulfilled purpose, clearing the narrative decks for Jean and the pursuit of her remarkable journalistic white whale ... Intertwined nicely with the central plot—and given a rather surprising, if welcome, amount of attention given the book’s overall ethos—is the geo-temporal location ... inexorably wound up in its plot, as Jean’s oppressing tensions—her conventional mother, the limits placed on her by social convention, and the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry—give life and propulsion to the book as a whole ... That readership Chambers enjoys as a result of her successful career will recognize and admire the clear-eyed prose and emotionally resonant storytelling that dominates the genetic makeup ... By the end, the style used in Small Pleasures manages, much like the good journalist who serves as its heroine, to present the facts without getting in the way of the story, and makes for a book that will satisfy its audience.