As it’s the festive season, on Saturday 19th December, Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM was all about great literary parties – admittedly, like my show about holidays, this turned out to be more ‘parties gone awry’. You can listen to the show again on the player below but first, as promised, here are the details of the books I discussed:
Zadie Smith’s debut novel (published in 2000) tells the story of wartime friends Samad Iqbal and Archie Jones, their wives and children. White Teeth is included on this list for the ‘End of the World Party’ (a New Year’s Eve party in a commune) where Archie meets his wife Clara for the first time.
Tsiolkas’ award-winning novel, published in 2008, centres around the events and consequences of an afternoon barbecue in suburban Melbourne: someone slaps a child who is not their own, and the fallout from this results in friendships being fractured and secrets being revealed. Each chapter of the novel is narrated by a different character, including the party host, the child’s mother and the perpetrator of the eponymous slap.
From barbecue to dinner party now: the next book I talked about was Muriel Spark’s 1990 novel Symposium, which takes place at a dinner party hosted by Hurley Reed and Chris Donovan. Told through fragmentary chronology, flashback and memory, the book is a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ of a story, with a bit of darkness at its heart.
Although this party certainly goes awry, it’s still the literary party I would most like to attend. I love the descriptions of the party preparations in Allingham’s 1955 novel, which features her detective Albert Campion. As Minnie and Tonker Cassands prepare for their annual Midsummer party, a body is found is Pontisbright and Campion is called upon to lend his expert eye to the case – with the help of Magersfontein Lugg and DCI Charles Luke, of course.
Maybe not a party as such – more an ad hoc, slightly chaotic family gathering – but I felt that the get-together at Brinkley Court in Wodehouse’s 1934 novel deserved a place on this list. I could have chosen from a number of Wodehouse’s short stories and novels, but I picked Right Ho, Jeeves because it made me laugh until I cried the first time I read it. Bertie Wooster is shocked to discover that his friends rate Jeeves’s advice higher than his own – so he instructs his valet to keep quiet as he attempts to solve a number of small social problems. Needless to say, this does not go well.
I ended the show on a play, rather than a novel. The Birthday Party was first performed in 1957, and has been described as ‘theatre of the absurd’ and a ‘comedy of menace’. Stanley Webber is lodging at a boarding-house run by Meg and Petey Boles, when two mysterious men named Goldberg and McCann arrive, claiming to have unfinished business. It’s also Stanley’s birthday. Or maybe it isn’t.
To hear more about all these books, you can listen to the show here: