Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – A Review

Publisher: W&N

Publication Date: 9th July 2020

I have to be honest and say that I was initially drawn to this book purely on the basis of that gorgeous cover! I mean look at it!

However, once I’d read the blurb I was drawn in even further and was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy. (I’m hoping the finished copy will be just as stunning).

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers tell the story of Jean, a female journalist on a local paper in the late 1950’s. When word comes in that there is a woman claiming to have given birth to a baby ten years prior having had no physical contact with a man, Jean is assigned to the case. For Jean it is something way out of her usual comfort zone of household tips and advice columns but she’s up for the challenge.

Jean wants to prove that she can report on more than domestic items and launches herself into investigating this case of Gretchen Tillbury and her bold claim of parentogenisis (essentially virgin birth) fully expecting that she will encounter a fraud.

However when Jean meets Gretchen and her 10 year old daughter Margaret, she can’t help but wonder what Gretchen is hoping to gain from her story. A story in which she is 100% adamant that her child was the product of a virgin birth.

Jean sets out to speak to various people in Gretchen’s life to see if she can flesh out who Gretchen is as a person and what her motives may possibly be. It transpires that Gretchen was an inpatient in a convalescent home at the time she reportedly became pregnant and Jean sets out to speak the various patients and staff who worked there at the time.

In the process of her investigation she also speaks with Howard, Gretchen’s husband. A man who steadfastly stands by his wife’s claims and declares he has no reason to disbelieve her.

As medical tests begin on Gretchen and Margaret, Jean starts to become deeper and deeper embroiled with the Tillson family, growing ever closer to little Margaret and feeling as though Gretchen is strangely pushing her towards Howard.

But just how much will this outlandish claim affect Jean’s mundane life and the lives of those around her? And how far will she go to find her own happiness within a family unit?

What I loved about this story was the characterisation. I found Jean to be such a difficult woman to fathom at first. She comes across as prickly and standoffish and I found her hard to piece together but I enjoyed the challenge of her. She lives with her mother and they have a very regimented and orderly, if somewhat dull life. Set days for hair wash, set days for meals etc. Jean’s mother is very dependent on her and quite stifling. Jean finds this cumbersome and their relationship quite often curtails her social life. What little social life she has before she meets the Tillson’s anyway.

Despite wanting to do a great journalistic job of the story, Jean also yearns to have what the Tillson’s seem to have. A perfect family life.

The relationship between Jean and Howard as it progresses is such a joy to watch unfolding, despite the fact that Howard is obviously married to Gretchen.

The reasoning behind Gretchen’s apparent need to push them both together is finally unveiled and all becomes startlingly clear.

The standout moment in this book is the ending. It took me completely by surprise (such a clichè I know!) but I had been so wrapped up in Jean and Howard’s relationship that I’d completely forgotten what I’d read at the start of the book to bring everything full circle.

It’s an absolute gut punch!

Clare Chambers has written very believable characters against a backdrop of an unbelievable situation. I adore her writing style and I am so pleased that she has a back catalogue that I can now go back to.

I would very much recommend this book!

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx


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