Privilege, obsessions, and the dark side of the high life: The Party by Elizabeth Day
The Party is a dark and clever novel about privilege, obsession, and the immovable establishment in British society. Martin Gilmour went to school and university with the rich Ben Fitzmaurice and became an accepted part of his best friend’s family, but a secret in their past and their precarious relationship in the present threatens to blow apart this friendship forever and reveal that Martin was never really a part of the world he thought he had ascended to. Day’s novel exposes hypocrisy and lies in the upper classes, but also the frailty and delusion of human relationships, as Martin and his wife Lucy recount events in the past and present.
The narrative style of The Party is gripping, jumping between time in a flashback style whilst Day carefully controls how much information is given. The plot centres around a party that Ben holds for his 40th birthday and how this causes Martin to look back at the past and consider their secrets. It is a classic structure that allows a slow reveal of the past, tense as it becomes clear that this is not a simple case of boyhood friendship continued into adulthood. Martin is painted as an outsider, someone who learnt how to fit in through his relationship with Ben, leaving him reliant on his best friend, but it is clear to outsiders that this is not as simple as Martin might claim. He is an unreliable narrator and through this Day shows his obsession and how this could teeter on the edge of revenge. The other characters are less notably presented, often because Martin does not describe them objectively, but this gives the reader a sense that a lot is being covered up or rewritten.
The Party is a timely novel, poking fun at public school and Oxbridge educated, everything handed to them on a plate politicians as well as the institutions which allows those rich enough to get away with anyway. It is also a very enjoyable read for anybody who enjoys novels about the dark side of privilege and characters who get themselves into that world, but at a price.