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Publisher's Summary

 Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2021  

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.

©2020 Clare Chambers (P)2020 Orion Publishing Group

Critic Reviews

"The 21st century heir to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor. Small Pleasures is both gripping and a huge delight." (Amanda Craig, author of The Lie of the Land) 

"The glorious literary equivalent of pulling the duvet over your head. If you admire Tessa Hadley or Anne Tyler (and there are shades of Barbara Pym too), then this is one for you." (Bookseller, Book of the Month) 

"A word-of-mouth hit." (Evening Standard)

What listeners say about Small Pleasures

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    3 out of 5 stars

Unexpected

Loved the characters
Beautifully Narrated, wanted to keep listening to find out what was going to happen. The actual story falls a little short but it’s mostly upbeat & unexpected.

3 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Rachel Redford
  • Rachel Redford
  • 26-07-2020

Poignant, thoughtful & beautifully crafted

I loved this gentle, compassionate story with a heart-stopping end which I won't spoil. Clare Chambers has done careful research on the late 1950s when the novel is set with details of relationships, the lives of women, the food, jobs, trains, clothes etc meticulously woven into a completely successful re-creation of that time which she herself is too young to have experienced as an adult. It's a great achievement.

The stories are cleverly woven together. Jean is near enough 40, living with her tiresome, dependent, querulous mother who dominates her daughter's life. Jean works for a newspaper mainly churning out recipes and household economy hints but is asked to investigate the story of a woman called Gretchen who claims that her 10year-old daughter Margaret was the result of a virgin birth. Jean and Gretchen become unlikely friends, along with little Margaret for whom Jean buys a rabbit. Gretchen's husband Harold, a quiet modest man, accepts Margaret as a daughter, and he too becomes a significant friend and Jean learns the true state of his marriage.

As time passes. Jean and Harold are in love and it seems that life could blossom for them both even if there are obstacles to overcome. This love is detailed with infinite tenderness and compassion as the plot become increasingly complex and we never know quite what will happen - and certainly never guess what does happen. Jean untangles many stories and finds the truth about the virgin birth...

I can't give more away for fear of spoiling one of the most enjoyable, highly original, heart-warming and heart-breaking new novels I've read (or listened to) for a long while. It's also read with exactly the right tone which enriches the story.

Just download it and bury all your worries as you listen, entranced!

21 people found this helpful

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  • Lord Copper
  • 12-11-2020

Suburban mid century despair

First of all I really like these bleak mid century tales of small lives eeked out. However, this story was marred by the very hamfisted narration. It’s a female narrator with odd disjointed intonation. At times it reminded me of one of those robot messages “you now have five options”. Not only that the narrator isn’t capable of doing a male voice and can only do one male voice so all male characters sounded strained and alike. I found this narration incredibly distracting.
The other beef I had with this book is the ***SPOILER ALERT tragic ending which pulls the rug from under your feet as a reader and for what purpose?. Really a depressing end. Don’t read this if you are feeling down.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-09-2020

Mixed emotions

Nice story, beautifully written but It’s all about the ending.. it left me a little depressed.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Tedbar
  • 13-03-2021

loved it

i really enjoyed this book. it was so lovely reading of a gentler age and people with values. This is my first book by this author and it definitely won't be my last.

5 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Liz B
  • Liz B
  • 07-07-2021

intricate and beguiling story betrayed by ending

Such a relief to find a well written book with an intriguing story. I was all set to read more books by this author, but felt really let down by the ending. The ending meant that the issues to be faced could never be resolved. It would have been interesting to see how the three main characters coped with their situation in the longer term.

3 people found this helpful

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  • A
  • 08-06-2021

Narrator ruins the book

I had to give up on this as the narration became unbearable. The narrator seems like she is utterly bored by the story - her intonation is unusual and it is monotonous and irritating. It detracts from the story and makes for an unpleasant listening experience.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Kala Johnson
  • 26-03-2021

Truly awful narration

I have not finished this yet, and while I’m enjoying the story, I may not be able to tolerate the narrator for one second more! Did anyone actually listen to her before approving this?! She’s robotic with the oddest intonations. Almost like the computerised voice of a landline reading out a text message. This is not how you read a story and it’s frankly ruined the book for me.

3 people found this helpful

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  • MR JOHN DEWHURST
  • 01-01-2021

Very clever period piece

I do love the details- so evocative of the fifties. And the real geography of the south London suburbs
Thought the reader was spot on too

3 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Oerlikono
  • Oerlikono
  • 25-06-2021

Narration is disappointing

At the beginning, purely from the narration, I questioned whether I could finish this audiobook. The intonation at the end of sentences is so odd. It was most bothersome in the first quarter of the book, either that or I stopped noticing, but I couldnt help listening to the lovely prose and how I wish I could hear it said in the correct way rather than the way Karen Cass says it.

The story itself is fairly engaging, and you do want to know what happens, which is always a good thing, but a lot of the story felt like filler. beautifully written though

2 people found this helpful

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  • Badger
  • 24-05-2021

Worst narration ever!

It took me 3 attempts to complete this book as the narrator was just so bad and off putting. Her intonation is so very weird, I can’t even explain what she does but it’s horrible to listen to, which is such a shame. I really enjoyed the story and the way it’s written and the characters but it was very hard to get past the narration. What a terrible shame

2 people found this helpful

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