The soundtrack to Diana Evans' Ordinary People

Diana Evans, whose novel Ordinary People draws from the music both at the time of writing and the era in which it was set, shares with us a selection of tracks that provide a soundtrack both to the novel, and to her process.

Ordinary People was a long seven-year road of writing and music was the genie that kept me on track. Whenever I got lost and found myself in a wilderness of irrelevance and confusion, I would hear quite suddenly and quite by chance a Michael Jackson song playing on the radio and know exactly where I was.

If I needed reminding of the importance of completing the novel I would play John Legend’s Get Lifted in its entirety, or some Jill Scott or hip hop or sometimes, specifically, Tinie Tempah’s ‘Pass Out’. Music is embedded into the lives of the characters and therefore into the sentences.

There are songs in every chapter, as there are songs in every life, so it seemed fitting, in offering a realistic portrayal of black British psychologies, and as an interesting extension of the literary experience, to come with a soundtrack. All the songs on this playlist are played in the novel, and are listed in chronological order as they appear.

John Legend gets the most airplay as Get Lifted is the scaffolding for Michael’s bus-ride to work in Chapter 4 and his general internal speak on the central subject of his relationship with Melissa.

Originally called ‘Bell Green’, after the area in which it is set in south London, the novel later changed its name in acknowledgement of this major salute to music, that song in particular containing for my purposes not just an accurate reflection of the conflicting phases of love, but also a necessary normalising of the very idea of black love and indeed black people – unexotic, unfascinating, un-other, simply ordinary.

This is a book to be read and heard at the same time, then listened to again in pure sound, bringing the characters and their world back to you on the rewind, with more to tell and more to remember.

More about the author

Ordinary People

Diana Evans

'Diana Evans is a lyrical and glorious writer; a precise poet of the human heart' Naomi Alderman

‘You can take a leap, do something off the wall, something reckless. It’s your last chance, and most people miss it.’

South London, 2008. Two couples find themselves at a moment of reckoning, on the brink of acceptance or revolution. Melissa has a new baby and doesn’t want to let it change her but, in the crooked walls of a narrow Victorian terrace, she begins to disappear. Michael, growing daily more accustomed to his commute, still loves Melissa but can’t quite get close enough to her to stay faithful. Meanwhile out in the suburbs, Stephanie is happy with Damian and their three children, but the death of Damian’s father has thrown him into crisis – or is it something, or someone, else? Are they all just in the wrong place? Are any of them prepared to take the leap?

Set against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s historic election victory, Ordinary People is an intimate, immersive study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and aging, and the fragile architecture of love. With its distinctive prose and irresistible soundtrack, it is the story of our lives, and those moments that threaten to unravel us.

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