Book review: Ordinary Human Love, Melissa Goode

A debut novel that surveys intimate relationships and the nature of desire.
Ordinary Human Love. On the left is a colour headshot of a white woman in her 30s/40s, with wavy dark shoulder length hair, parted in the middle and a V neck black top. The book cover on the right has a pinky/orange background and two lilac coloured statues with arms outstretched, one below the other reaching up as if they are about to kiss.

Ordinary Human Love is Melissa Goode’s first novel. It follows Mardi McKee as she mourns the death of her mother, navigates life post-divorce and struggles to reconcile her feelings for her former lover, Ian. Returning to the family home to gather together and make sense of these events, Mardi additionally reckons with the looming spectre of her father, and his disapproval of her choices in life.

Despite moving between Sydney, Europe and rural New South Wales, much of the action of the narrative is focused sharply inwards. As the title suggests, the scope of Goode’s work encompasses the mundane moments that encircle the interrelationships between ourselves and others. Sometimes, this works and there are snatches of quiet clarity; at other times, Ordinary Human Love moves in ways that feel more akin to cliché than literary depth.

The connection between Mardi and Ian is both tense and tactile, as the sex scenes scattered throughout the novel demonstrate. ‘I didn’t see a future for Ian and me,’ Mardi tells us, ‘but I also couldn’t imagine not seeing him again. Ian had struck a point in me where I went still, we went still, and the rest of the world continued without us.’ Mardi, a lawyer, is intrigued by Ian’s country boy mystique, and vice versa.

Gradually, other characters come into focus. Claudia, Ian’s kid sister, enters the scene and slowly a friendship forms between the two. A tempestuous teen, Claudia is able to understand Mardi’s strange irreconcilability when it comes to Ian; more so, in fact, than he can himself.

The class divide between Mardi and Ian is as much of an issue in their affair as their personalities – something that feels underdeveloped within Ordinary Human Love. This is no Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Beautiful World, Where Are You scenario: the division between Mardi and Ian’s socioeconomic situations is placed before the reader more for aesthetic value than for political analysis.

A similar aftertaste is caused by the novel’s repeated use of cultural touchstones – listening to The Smiths and Radiohead, reading a Gough Whitlam biography and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair – which, at times, feels overdone.

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Ordinary Human Love ultimately delivers on the promise of its title: while it moves to consider deeper themes, the novel is still firmly rooted in the romance genre. This is by no means a criticism: the sweep of erogenous passion that propels the narrative forward will delight bookworms in search of an easy pleasure read.

Ordinary Human Love, Melissa Goode
Publisher: Ultimo Press
ISBN: 9781761153266
Pages: 352pp
Publication Date: May 2024
RRP: $34.99

Ellie Fisher is a writer. Her creative work has appeared in Westerly Magazine, Swim Meet Lit Mag, Devotion Zine, and Pulch Mag, amongst others. Ellie is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Western Australia. She splits her time between Kinjarling and Boorloo.