The Party, by Elizabeth Day
Publication: Little, Brown & Company; August 15, 2017
About the book:
A taut psychological tale of obsession and betrayal set over the course of a dinner party, THE PARTY tells the story of two married couples who, in a single evening, will come to question everything they thought they knew about each other, as the long-buried secret at the heart of their friendship comes to the surface, culminating in an explosive act of violence.
Ben, who hails from old money, and Martin, who grew up poor but is slowly carving out a successful career as an art critic, have been inseparable since childhood. Ben’s wife Serena likes to jokingly refer to Martin as Ben’s dutiful Little Shadow.
Lucy is a devoted wife to Martin, even as she knows she’ll always be second best to his sacred friendship. When Ben throws a lavish 40th birthday party as his new palatial country home, Martin and Lucy attend, mixing with the very upper echelons of London society.
But why, the next morning, is Martin in a police station being interviewed about the events of last night? Why is Lucy being forced to answer questions about his husband and his past? What exactly happened at the party? And what has bound these two very different men together for so many years?
A cleverly built tour of intrigue, THE PARTY reads like a novelistic board game of Clue, taking us through the various half-truths and lies its characters weave, as the past and present collide in a way that its protagonists could never have anticipated.
Who, What, When, etc.
Martin and his wife Lucy are invited to Martin’s best friend’s (Ben) 40th birthday party. Ben and his wife Serena have an amazing, sprawling home they purchased from monks, with more than enough room to host Martin and Lucy for the night, however, they are not invited to stay over and have to book a sub-par hotel.
Shifting between the 1980’s to the present, the novel outlines Martin’s childhood, his attendance at a boarding school where he met Ben, through college, into adulthood. However, early in the novel, Martin is in the police station being questioned about Ben’s 40th birthday party and what happened.
Thoughts and Reactions
If you have read The Dinner, by Herman Koch, chances are you already know the overall makeup of this novel. Don’t get me wrong, Elizabeth Day’s writing was impeccable, beautiful, and eloquent. However, I couldn’t get past the deja vu and the feeling that I had already read this story, just with different age groups and circumstances.
There are several themes and issues in this novel including the power of family money, entitlement, struggling with sexual identity, mental illness, and so on. Very early in the novel, it is clear that there is something a little off about Martin. Although intelligent and creative, there’s this inner obsession that devours him, keeping him from leading a normal, healthy life.
The time periods flip-flop throughout the novel between Martin and Ben growing into adulthood, the party, and after the party. During these shifts between time, it becomes evident that all of the involved parties are completely insane. Martin, his wife Lucy, Ben, his wife Serena, Ben’s family, and so on. There is a complete disconnect between these characters and any possible resemblance of moral compass.
The plot and character development were satisfyingly complex, however, I struggled to connect, like, or even tolerate any of the characters in this novel. Each and every character was either self-absorbed, trying too hard to be different, or putting on a show of who they should be, rather than, who they really were. This was truly the most pretentious gathering of characters that I have ever seen, and I’m not sure it added to the novel in any way.
This is another novel that is difficult to adequately review without spoilers, but I will leave you with these thoughts. The writing, once again, is impeccable. However, given that I was unable to connect with any of the characters and there were times the story seemed to drag, I can’t, in good faith, recommend this novel. Although, if by chance you are a fan of Herman Koch’s The Dinner, this novel will completely float your boat.