• Small Pleasures

  • A Novel
  • By: Clare Chambers
  • Narrated by: Karen Cass
  • Length: 9 hrs and 59 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (204 ratings)

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Small Pleasures  By  cover art

Small Pleasures

By: Clare Chambers
Narrated by: Karen Cass
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Publisher's Summary

In the best tradition of Tessa Hadley, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ann Patchett - an astonishing, keenly observed period piece about an ordinary British woman in the 1950s whose dutiful life takes a sudden turn into a pitched battle between propriety and unexpected passion.

"With wit and dry humor...quietly affecting in unexpected ways. Chambers' language is beautiful, achieving what only the most skilled writers can: big pleasure wrought from small details." (The New York Times)

Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction

1957: Jean Swinney is a feature writer on a local paper in the southeast suburbs of London. Clever but with limited career opportunities and on the brink of forty, Jean lives a dreary existence that includes caring for her demanding widowed mother, who rarely leaves the house. It’s a small life with little joy and no likelihood of escape.

That all changes when a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth. Jean seizes onto the bizarre story and sets out to discover whether Gretchen is a miracle or a fraud. But the more Jean investigates, the more her life becomes strangely (and not unpleasantly) intertwined with that of the Tilburys, including Gretchen’s gentle and thoughtful husband Howard, who mostly believes his wife, and their quirky and charming daughter Margaret, who becomes a sort of surrogate child for Jean. Gretchen, too, becomes a much-needed friend in an otherwise empty social life.

Jean cannot bring herself to discard what seems like her one chance at happiness, even as the story that she is researching starts to send dark ripples across all their lives…with unimaginable consequences.

Both a mystery and a love story, Small Pleasures is a literary tour-de-force in the style of The Remains of the Day, about conflict between personal fulfillment and duty; a novel that celebrates the beauty and potential for joy in all things plain and unfashionable. 

©2021 Clare Chambers (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Small Pleasures

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Awful ending

Books with unhappy endings should carry a warning. Consider this review that warning! Save your credit for something redemptive.

7 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Slowly drew me in.....

This was a surprisingly beautiful story that drew me in slowly and seduced me into loving it..... the character development was excellent, the storyline grew slowly and steadily and mysteriously, and the narration was wonderful..... however, I think the author took a short cut to an ending that was abrupt and seemed inconsistent with the overall style of the book. I would have given it 5 stars but for the ending which seemed like a cheap way out.

6 people found this helpful

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Fantastic captivating story …

Absolutely loved this book…such an original plot and the narrator really bought the characters to life. The descriptions of life in London in the 1950s with all the domestic details are super interesting too. Really worth a listen.

5 people found this helpful

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  • SB
  • 03-27-22

Minor Miseries

I'm in the minority, but I hated this book. I'm at a loss to understand how it made the Women's Prize long list. I had zero sympathy for Jean and her adulterous affair, not to mention her utter lack of journalistic integrity. Jean is very selfish, often expressing frustration that her lover's daughter or her own infirm, elderly mother gets in the way of her trysts. The romance is cheesy and unconvincing. The author seems to go out of her way to justify Jean's behavior. Howard and Gretchen are no prizes either. The mystery of the supposed virgin birth is pretty flimsy and easy to figure out. The reason that Gretchen went public with her claim in the first place seemed pretty silly. The laughable "investigation" took months and months.

4 people found this helpful

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Absolutely Loved

I loved this book. The story captured me, the narration was perfect, but most of all I was impressed by the writing. I am recommending it right and left.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Very unique!I

I loved this book! I loved her writing and the narrator was very good. I listened every chance I had!

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Lovely story

A book to curl up with and enjoy. Sympathetic main character, interesting and romantic plot and wonderful narration. Karen Cass should be given more to narrate, she’s excellent !

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Thoroughly enjoyable story and performance

it started out a bit slow but once you get into the meat of the story it was interesting and entertaining.

3 people found this helpful

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Good listen, bad ending

I enjoyed the writing, historical period, and narration of this book. I haven’t heard a lot of fiction set in 50s UK, and I found it an interesting era. The characters and the story were engaging enough, and I enjoyed my time in this world for the most part. However the “mystery” was fairly predictable and heavily foreshadowed. To me the ending was completely random and unnecessary. It was so random that I find it easy to disregard and imagine my own alternate endings that I like better. Maybe there is something profound in it that I missed, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a cheap device based on an event that caught the author’s fancy.

1 person found this helpful

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Lovely story

I enjoyed this quiet story about love set against the backdrop of a scientific mystery.

1 person found this helpful