Ordinary People is a story about two couples living south of the river in London in 2008 and how they reach tiny breaking points. Melissa and Michael have a terraced house and a new baby along with their daughter Ria, but they are falling slowly apart. Michael focuses on his commute on the 176 bus and an image of Melissa in the past that doesn’t account for who she is now, whereas Melissa thinks the house is bearing down on her and doesn’t want to let Michael close. Further out in the suburbs, Michael’s old friend Damien and his wife Stephanie are trying to keep together after the death of Damien’s father and the realities of no longer living in the city.
This is a novel about relationships, family, and location, tied together by south London and by different characters’ versions of being a black Londoner. It shows the minutiae of domesticity and the ways in which tiny misunderstandings and closed off moments build up. The narrative is focused upon the characters and their relationships rather than events, which gives it a sense of being a kind of fictional snapshot into people’s lives.
The highlight of Ordinary People is its depiction of south London, full of geographical specificity and recognisable elements and descriptions. It is a novel for people who like reading books set in London that focus on character and relationships and how people’s identities are shaped by themselves and others.