Ordinary People by Diana Evans review – magnificence and marital angst

An exuberant investigation into midlife malaise explores love, compromise and the way we live today

In his 2004 song “Ordinary People”, John Legend portrays the bittersweet stage of a romance past its first flush, when the mess of everyday life is setting in. “Passed the infatuation phase”, he sings, “Seems like we argue every day.” Diana Evans borrows his song’s title and theme for her exuberant third novel, about midlife relationship malaise. The shadow of marital breakdown loomed around the edges of her award-winning debut novel, 2005’s 26a, which was framed by the beginning and end of Charles and Diana’s marriage (as well as Diana’s funeral) in the first and last chapters.

Ordinary People is much more about the compromises made after the babies have arrived and the butterflies have stopped fluttering. For the two late thirtysomething couples here, existential panic is sparked by dwindling sex lives and ...