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Review: The Book Of Ordinary People by Claire Varley

on August 9, 2018

The Book Of Ordinary People
Claire Varley
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 407p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A grieving daughter navigates the morning commute, her mind bursting with memories pleading to be shared.

A man made entirely of well-cut suits and strictly enforced rules swims his regular morning laps and fantasises about his self-assured promotion.

A young lawyer sits in a fluorescent-lit office, typing indecipherable jargon and dreaming of everything she didn’t become.

A failed news hack hides under the covers from another looming deadline, and from a past that will not relent its pursuit.

And a young woman seeking asylum sits tensely on an unmoving train, praying that good news waits at the other end of the line…

In this charming, moving and affectionate novel, Claire Varley paints a magical portrait of five ordinary people, and the sometimes heartbreaking power of the stories we make of ourselves.

This was an absolutely beautiful book and I loved it!

It’s the story of, as the title says, five ordinary people. They’re all living in Melbourne, in close proximity to each other and at first glance, as you meet each of them, they don’t seem particularly connected, with the exception of the two lawyers. But the further you read, the more you realise how their lives are intersecting, without them even knowing it.

Aida is a young asylum seeker from Iran, waiting. Waiting for the news of a letter that will tell her that her application to extend her visa has been approved. After having been in camps, released into the community, a large amount of asylum seekers were suddenly told that they had to reapply. Now their lives are in limbo, waiting for that piece of paper that tells them yes they can stay or no, they cannot. Aida lives in a small 2 bedroom house with Elham, also an asylum seeker and Elham’s daughter Niki who attends the local kinder and is struggling, perhaps because of her disrupted upbringing. Aida and Elham are not really friends at first but their bond strengthens. Aida’s story was without a doubt the one that I found the most powerful in the book, her chapters were always the ones I looked forward to the most because she was the one that I really felt had the most to lose in the book. She’s well qualified in Iran but here she finds herself taken advantage of, paid minimal amounts cash in hand because who is she going to complain to? Aida soldiers on, day by day and I just wanted her to get her letter telling her that her application was successful already.

Although I think I connected the most with Aida’s story, I enjoyed reading about the other characters too – Rik, a disgraced journalist who has isolated himself from everyone he knows, writing puff pieces on residents who “love living in the northern suburbs”. Rik is clearly suffering some sort of PTSD and you don’t realise his true identity right away. And then it becomes about discovering what happened to him, why he’s doing this to himself. Evangelia is a Greek Australian who is still mourning the death of her mother and wants to desperately write her story only she can’t seem to find her mother anywhere she looks. Evangelia’s story included a really in depth look at the Greek mourning traditions, the stories and the responsibility and role of the eldest woman in the family. She struggles in comparison to her elder sister Lydia, the two constantly at odds and bickering about everything. Evangelia and her husband own a gyros shop which is a constant source of stress for many reasons. And then there’s Nell and “DB” – they both work in a law firm. Nell is young and being mentored by DB, who dreams of a promotion and writes breezy, humblebrag letters to someone called “Jonesy” about how amazing his life is even as it starts to fall down around him. DB becomes obsessed with money, status, class and impressing the boss. Having a big house in a particular area, despite the fact that it makes life harder when his wife wants their son to attend a community kinder closer to her parents place in order for them to be able to care for him while DB and his wife are still at work. When Nell comes up with a partnership idea with a community legal firm, DB learns a lot about what he’s prioritising and how it’s affecting his life.

I loved the glimpses into these totally ordinary lives of ordinary people. People who are struggling with the day to day of juggling family and work, dealing with feelings of grief, isolation and even recovering from trauma. I love the connections between all the characters that kept appearing and how their circles intersected constantly over the course of the novel. But ultimately I kept coming back to Aida’s story and how it must be indicative of thousands of people at the moment who just want to escape a place of oppression and find somewhere to live freely. Her and Elham and Niki. I think the scene where they collect Niki from kinder and the nervous teacher tries to explain that Niki might need some assistance is the one that just stuck with me the most. Elham doesn’t speak English so Aida has to translate for her and there’s just so much fear and nervousness from Elham as she struggles to understand. I’ve had a child that needed extra assistance at kinder – occupational therapy was recommended for my youngest to help with his fine motor skills and it was over a 6 month wait for a public facility. To go private is expensive and there are many people who simply cannot afford that it when you’re struggling to make ends meet. Many times by the time the child gets into the programs, they are almost ready to start school or have started school and are no longer eligible and then you have to try other things. This complication must be amplified into the thousands when you don’t speak fluent English yet and are not skilled at navigating things like doctors appointments. Simple things like advocating for your child become an impossibility and this can be how children fall further behind.

This was a really thought provoking read and I enjoyed every page of it.


Book #132 of 2018

3 responses to “Review: The Book Of Ordinary People by Claire Varley

  1. A copy of this arrived for me on Tuesday. I would have got it ages ago but it seemed to have vanished from the sender to me and another copy was sent. Looking forward to reading after this review, I hadn’t heard much about it up until now.

  2. […] A very kind and lovely review from 1girl2manybooks. […]

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