1957, south-east suburbs of London.
Jean Swinney is a journalist on the local newspaper, caring for her truculent mother and – unmarried in her mid-30s – considered a spinster of her parish.
This limited existence of tedious chores and small pleasures is suddenly cracked open when a reporting assignment takes Jean into the intimate lives of the Tilburys: Gretchen Tilbury has made the sensational claim that her daughter Margaret is the product of a virgin birth and Jean is determined to uncover the truth.
But as the initial medical tests seem to confirm Gretchen’s version of events, Jean is surprised to find her life has become strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen is now a friend, and her quirky and charming daughter Margaret a sort of surrogate child. But it is Gretchen’s husband, Howard, who exerts the greatest gravitational pull on Jean: she doesn’t mean to fall in love with him, but Howard surprises her with his dry wit, his intelligence and his kindness – and when she does fall, she falls hard.
But he is married, and to her friend – who is also the subject of the story she is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. And yet Jean cannot bring herself to discard the chance of finally having a taste of happiness…
But there will be a price to pay, and it will be unbearable.
‘A delicious mystery and a touching exploration of loneliness and desire in cloying 1950s suburbia – a great read’ - Sally Magnusson, author of The Sealwoman’s Gift
‘Small Pleasures is the best sort of book: full of longing, regret and difficult emotions but leavened with so much warmth and humour it was a joy from start to finish’ - Francesca Jakobi, author of Bitter
'Small Pleasures is a gorgeous treat of a novel: the premise is fascinating, the characters beautifully drawn and utterly compelling, the period setting masterfully and delicately evoked, and the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns. And oh, the finale broke my heart. I just couldn't put this novel down.' - Laura Barnett, bestselling author of The Versions of Us and Greatest Hits
"The glorious literary equivalent of pulling the duvet over your head... Both an absorbing mystery and a tender love story - and the ending is devastating. Chambers is a writer who finds the truth in things. If you admire Tessa Hadley or Anne Tyler (and there are shades of Barbara Pym too), then this is one for you." - Alice O'Keefe, The Bookseller, Book of the Month
"Quietly remarkable... Small Pleasures is no small pleasure." - The Times
"An irresistible novel – wry, perceptive and quietly devastating." - Mail on Sunday
"There's compassion and quiet humour to be found in this tale of a putative virgin birth in postwar suburban London... Chambers's eye for drab, undemonstrative details achieves a Larkin-esque lucidity… The postwar suburban milieu of Chambers’ work has drawn comparisons to Barbara Pym, although perhaps a closer parallel could be made with Anita Brookner, with whom she shares an interest in intelligent, isolated women destabilised by the effects of an unexpected and unsustainable love affair." - The Guardian
"A gentle, heart-aching mystery that's infused with empathy and a keen understanding of stifling 1950s mores." - Daily Mail
"A brilliant book… A love story between people who are not usually the leading players in love story… I found it incredibly absorbing… Many of our listeners will adore this book and will want to seek it out." - Jane Garvey, BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour
"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." - The Sunday Times
"[A] quietly compelling novel of duty and desire." - The Sunday Telegraph, Novel of the Week
"Inhaling a book in one giant gulp is one of the most gloriously delicious things about summer. This year more than ever we deserve a book that has the magical ability to make the rest of the world fall away while you race through its pages and — phew — we’ve got it. SMALL PLEASURES by Clare Chambers… is gripping, tender and perfect formed." - Evening Standard
"...what’s clever about this novel is its undercurrent of sex and danger. This is an almost flawlessly written tale of genuine romantic anguish." - "The best paperbacks of 2021", The Sunday Times
"I thought it was a wonderful book, very sad and funny." - Richard Osman, The Guardian
"This wry, witty tale of a stifled journalist finding new horizons as she investigates an unlikely claim is a bittersweet treat." - The Guardian, "Summer reading: the 50 hottest new books everyone should read"
“Witty, touching and compelling.” - I paper, “40 best books for summer”
“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.” - The New York Times
"...this is a gripping, tender, and powerful novel that lingers long in the memory." - Church Times