The Party by Elizabeth Day

The Blurb On The Back:

As the train pressed on, I realised that my life was in the process of taking a different direction, plotted according to a new constellation.  Because, although I didn’t know it yet, I was about to meet Ben and nothing would ever be the same again.

Martin Gilmour is an outsider.  When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent.  But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world.  Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.

But Martin has a secret.  He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell.  It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.

Now, at Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour.  Amid the hundreds of guests – the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich – Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging.  His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too.  There is disquiet in the air.  But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship.

Would he?

You can order THE PARTY by Elizabeth Day from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Martin Gilmour is a successful newspaper art critic whose book on the subject was a bestseller.  Relatively wealthy, he lives a comfortable life with his wife, Lucy.  But Lucy isn’t the most important person in Martin’s life – that would instead be Ben Fitzmaurice, Martin’s best friend since he won a scholarship to attend Burtonbury School, a private boarding school where Martin’s modest background (the only son of a single mother) made him a target.

Ben comes from a wealthy, privileged family complete with a country estate and has an easy way that makes him popular with everyone.  Martin’s had to work hard to win Ben’s friendship and it means everything to him and when he and Lucy are invited to Ben’s 40th birthday party, he sees it as a way of cementing their friendship but something happens that night – something awful – and it changes everything forever …

Elizabeth Day’s literary thriller is a state of the nation look at power and privilege in modern Britain which marries THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY and BRIDESHEAD REVISITED but while there’s some sharp descriptive writing on show here, the twists are obvious, the rich characters little more than Bullingdon stereotypes, it’s not clear just what makes Ben so special and ultimately Martin comes across as needy and gullible and ultimately unsympathetic.

The narration is split between Martin and Lucy and although it’s Martin’s story and observations that form the backbone of the story (setting out his home life, his school life and how he became friends with Ben and then, ultimately the secret that binds them together), it’s Lucy’s that interested me more as she slowly reveals she isn’t quite the loyal, admiring wife that he assumes.  The problem is that Ben is such an obviously fake, unpleasant person that other than the homoerotic undertones (that become overtones towards the end of the book), I didn’t understand what Martin saw in him.  Ben (and indeed, all the rich characters) are under-characterised – all are fake, power hungry and fundamentally unpleasant, even as their wealth and privilege is fetishized and given that Martin is shown as being educated and intelligent, his emotional gullibility just didn’t ring true.  I’d guessed the twist long before it was revealed and the ending didn’t ring true in the modern world.  Ultimately, although this book didn’t quite work for me I would definitely check out Day’s other books.

THE PARTY was released in the United Kingdom on 13th July 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.

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