As the title suggests The Book of Ordinary People follows the lives of five ordinary people living in Melbourne. This is Evangelia, a Greek-Australian grieving the loss of her mother while struggling to keep her family traditions alive; DB, a senior lawyer in a top-tier law firm, making plans for his self-assured promotion; Patrick, an unemployed journalist haunted by the trauma of his last assignment; Nell, a junior lawyer already questioning her place in a top tier-law firm.; and, at the heart of the story, Aida, an asylum seeker from Iran. Aida is stuck in a state of limbo waiting for her visa to be processed.
After reading through Claire Varley’s background it’s clear she has drawn her inspiration from real life experiences. She has worked in the gender equity and prevention of violence against women sectors, as well as coordinating community development projects in Australia and overseas and working with refugee and asylum seekers in Melbourne’s outer north.
While the narrative moved a little slow in the beginning, it wasn’t long before I found myself connecting to the deeper message of the story. Our protagonists are each struggling through relatable problems. The common connection is that each character is trying to find purpose in their life. The only exception is Aida. She is longing for the uncertainty of her future to be resolved. Without a visa to allow her to live in Australia and her life at risk if she were to return home, it makes some of the issues the other characters are facing seem trivial.
Aida’s story feels like the main focus in the book. Coming at a time when the refugee crises is a big topic of conversation, her story offers a good insight into some of the reasons people flee their homes in search of a safer life, only to be met with more stress and uncertainty.
As you move through the chapters the depth of the issues are slowly revealed along with the protagonists’ thought processes on how they got to this point in their lives and how they are trying to improve their situations. Varley often highlights the very common problem a negative outlook and overthinking can have on one’s life.
Each story is a perfect reminder that the strangers sitting in a cafe alongside you have a story; that everyone is doing their best to navigate their way through the complexities of life.
Those who enjoy stories that remind us of the things that are important may enjoy this book, as well as those whose guilty pleasure it is to imagine the stories of the random strangers we walk by every day.
This book highlights how important our thoughts are. Regardless of what you’re going through, it’s how you approach a situation that will determine how happy your life is. After all, life is what you make it.
Reviewed by Jessica Incoll
Rating out of 10: 7
Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: July 2018
RRP: $32.99 trade paperback $14.99 eBook