Elizabeth Day moved to Northern Ireland when she was 4. During her life she has lived in several different countries and attended boarding school as a child. She said she always felt an outsider.
She wrote ‘The Party’ following an extremely difficult period in her life. She had fertility treatment, she suffered a miscarriage and the break-up of her marriage. On the writing of this book she said, “it came from a place of untrammelled honesty. It came from a place of me.”
Her understanding of suffering and anger is evident and visceral.
This is Elizabeth’s Day’s 4th novel and in my opinion it’s a belter. The sort of novel that has you aching to get back to it, sneaking an extra couple of pages while you should be doing something else. Engrossing, with intense characterization – a delicious reading experience in every way.
The story is told in alternative 1st person narratives by Martin and Lucy who are married. The plot jumps between the present day and Martin re-living his past. Martin and Lucy also fill us in on how they met and how they have come to be where they are now, neither is in a good place either literally or metaphorically speaking (no spoilers!)
Martin is an only child who suffered at the hands of his controlling unaffectionate mother. His life changes when he is sent off to boarding school and meets the glamourous and worldly Ben Fitzmaurice. This is where the novel becomes a little ‘The Talented Mr Ripley.’ Martin sees a different life for himself and goes to dramatic lengths to get what he wants.
Ben and Martins’ lives become entangled in a way in which escape for either is impossible.
The novel is structured by Martin’s interview at a police station following Ben’s extravagant 40th Birthday party. We know something dreadful has happened – but what and to whom? This is only one element of what kept me turning the pages.
How could Martin be so cold on the one hand and yet seemingly caring on the other? Love turns to obsession and therein lies the inherent danger of human suffering.
This is also a novel about entitlement and the power and abuse that can occur with untold privilege. Ben Fitzmaurice has had everything he ever wanted his entire life. He is charming, intelligent and on the surface, apart from being a little superficial, he could be an all-round good guy. Until we begin to perceive his complete lack of empathy and understanding for Martin’s experiences in life. Ben has a total lack of self-awareness and is entirely unwilling to take responsibility for his failings. He is weak.
The heroine of the novel is Lucy. She may initially appear downtrodden and desperate for Martin to like her, but her courage and anger propel her forward, and as she comes to the realization that many women do later in life, that she is worth loving and doesn’t have to be ‘the perfect wife,’ we see her glorious true self emerge. Elizabeth Day says of writing about Lucy:
“I loved writing Lucy, because it was a cathartic experience in many respects……And what I wanted to do with ‘The Party’ is show that a woman can be as empowered by her anger as a man. I think we’d live in a much healthier society if women just faced their anger, realised it was part of them and that it can be a really creative stimulus, in the same way happiness can be or love can be.”
Martin’s anger is destructive, where Lucy’s is cathartic.
This novel had me hooked from the first few pages. The writing seems effortless (I have no doubt it was anything but!) the characterization is brilliant. Elizabeth Day has recently written a non-fiction book entitled ‘How to Fail.’ I am breathless with anticipation to read that and her back catalogue of novels. Oh, the joy of finding a new writer that I love never gets old! I hope you enjoyed the novel as much as I did, and if you haven’t read it yet, take it on your hols, you can thank me later!