New Release Book Review: The Book of Ordinary People by Claire Varley

The Book of Ordinary People…

About the Book:

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.

My Thoughts:

‘Because I might just be one person, but I’m me, and that matters. My voice matters. My story matters. And every single other person out there — they’re “me” too. And we all matter. All of us.’

Every now and again I’ll come across a novel that is so profoundly insightful, so affecting in the most subtle of ways, with a message of such importance that I want to jump up and down with the book in my hands shouting, “Read this book!” Consider this review the equivalent of me doing this. Because I really, REALLY, want every one of you to read this novel.

‘It’s not what history makes of you that matters, but what you make of your history.’

The Book of Ordinary People is exactly that, it’s a book about ordinary people. Five of them, to be exact. And in this book, they do ordinary things, every day things, like you and I. Carting around their worries, big and small, shouldering their baggage and trying to just get on with things while all of the ordinary road blocks of everyday life keep getting in the way. Some days are good, some less so, but these ordinary people keep on pressing on. Much like you and I. Why is this not boring? Well, for a start, Claire Varley is an exceptional writer with a style that gobbles you up. She’s funny, profoundly insightful, compassionate, and intimately aware of her characters, resulting in a wholly unique voice for each and subsequently, an incredibly moving story.

‘You know, the problem with victims, Nell, is it’s a status that takes away people’s agency. Their complexity. The nuances that make us human. They exist in shades of grey, which isn’t the easiest colour to capture. None of us are sympathetic in real life because that’s what it is to be human. But none of that negates our right to live safely, to command respect, to access the full extent of the law. There’s a reason Lady Justice has that blindfold.’

In a six degrees of separation kind of fashion, we see as each chapter unfolds just how these five people are connected. It’s clever storytelling and I love the web Claire weaves as the novel progresses. In some ways this is five stories, but in others it’s one. Whatever way you choose to look at it, The Book of Ordinary People is impressive, the kind of novel you lose yourself in and never want to finish. Each of the characters have something to say, or something to realise, which is the overall point of the novel. Some stories may seem more important than others, and some characters may be more relatable, but I enjoyed walking in the shoes of each of them and have had my eyes opened wide and my mind stretched to contemplate things I have not previously given a lot of thought to. I particularly appreciated Aida’s journal. Her words of reflection provided so much insight into what life is like in Iran and punctuated her present experiences as a refugee in Australia. Evangelia pushed her way into my heart with her grief and I had so much affinity for her quest to make meaning of her mother’s life. DB was hilarious, but in that “I’m laughing at you not with you” fashion. He typified the very definition of a try-hard. Nell was earnest and I admired her a lot as she navigated her way through working out just what type of lawyer she could live with being. And Rik was a bit tragic, a very sad story there, which once again draws much needed attention to the way in which PTS still falls through the cracks.

There’s an important message at the forefront of this novel, about looking past the window dressing of people, past the outer layer, the status and the labels, past the stereotypes and pre-conceived notions, right into the very heart of your fellow ordinary people. Because they, like you, are all doing extraordinary things in their own ordinary way and their stories matter. They deserve to be heard.

‘History tells us to seek out the extraordinary people; to find exceptional people who altered the world in monumental ways. But in doing this alone we forget the ordinary ones who were extraordinary in their tiny circles and created miniscule ripples that made the world better in uncountable ways.’

I can’t even begin to recommend this novel highly enough. So here I am, jumping up and down with my copy in my hands, shouting as loud as I can: “Read this book!”


Thanks is extended to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy of The Book of Ordinary People for review.

About the Author:

Claire Varley lives in Victoria, Australia on Wathaurong country. Her debut novel The Bit in Between was published in 2015. Her fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in many places, and she has coordinated community development projects in Australia and overseas, including remote Solomon Islands and with refugee and asylum seeker communities in Melbourne’s outer north.
Read my interview with Claire Varley here

The Book of Ordinary People
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
Released on 31st July 2018

6 thoughts on “New Release Book Review: The Book of Ordinary People by Claire Varley

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