The Party
Elizabeth Day
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Buy *The Party* by Elizabeth Dayonline

The Party
Elizabeth Day
Little, Brown
304 pages
August 2017
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Reading this was, for me, like a long vacation in a gorgeous and sacred place: a perfect book with beautifully crafted sentences and masterful scene and character development. Dayís book centers on an interview being recorded at Tipworth Police Station in 2015. DC Nicky Bridge and DC Kevin McPherson are questioning Martin Gilmore, talking through the events of the evening of the 2nd May and the events surrounding Ben Fitzmauriceís fortieth birthday party held by Ben and his wife, Serena. Martin and Ben go way back. Serena says, ďYouíre always there, arenít you Martin. Benís little shadow.Ē

Martinís wife Lucy, is chaffed that they are forced to stay at the Premier Inn just off the motorway and not at Benís sweeping and grand 17th-century Priory. The party was to be a grand affair and a point of pride for Ben and Serena. Ben in particular wanted to show what a ďjolly timeĒ he will have and how relaxed it will all be. Thereís a twitching light to Benís eyes, a ďfevered alacrityĒ as he watches over the party guests, planning his next move.

Ben forgets how well Martin knows him; he certainly understands his friendís deepest and darkest secrets. Ben is handsome and moneyed, coming from a life that has been almost too easy: public school, Cambridge, a job as a London hedge fund manager. Brought up in a very working-class existence--a dead father, a distant and bitter mother, and a boarding school adolescence cut off from parental affection--but without ever defining it beyond vague generalities, Martin was overwhelmed by the grandeur of Benís family and their money, power, and hint of aristocratic presence: ďIt made me feel as though I were properly part of the family: not someone the Fitzmaurices had to stand on ceremony for.Ē

The novel moves from Martinís early scholarship years at Burtonbury School, where he first meets Ben, to their time together at Cambridge University. Day imbues Martin with a keen sense of how people operate, an attribute that holds Martin in good stead as he ascends into Benís privileged world and awakens to the possibility that, yes, he can indeed cross the class divide. These early scenes show a relationship as solid as concrete and a sense that, despite Benís enormous pile of inherited wealth, heís just an easygoing guy, someone you could talk to: ďOh Ben, he's great. One of us. No airs and graces.Ē

While much of the novel involves the history of Martinís latent attraction to Ben, Day focuses on her protagonistís lonely interior life. Back at the police interview, the focus is in the party and the terrible accident. Martin remembers the Priory--the expensive lights, the trays of potent and sickly-sweet Bacardi Breezers, the bottles of hooch, and Ben himself, ď'a legend' and 'an absolute hoot' and 'jolly good fun'.Ē Martin is reluctant to tell the two detectives about the chaotic scene in the library and the oddly formal nature of Benís conversation. He feels thereís simply no need for the police to know that Lucy was offended or that Benís big investment opportunity was a final chance to show that Ben was the closest thing Martin had to family.

Martinís lifelong attraction to Ben is a reflection of his own inadequacies. Lucyís view of her husband is shielded through the lens of her own life experience. Much of her story tells about how she first met Martin, how he was so particular, so certain of the right way to dress, and so unquestionably sure of what constituted good taste: he had tentativeness that was "delicate and respectful. He treated me like a piece of fragile china.Ē Aware that her husband was in thrall to a man who had a disruptive and glamorous magic, Lucy had a hunch something had gone on between the two of them before she came on to the scene, a lure that was manifested in the oscillating vibrations of their love-hate reunion. In this dark story of obsession and quiet retaliation, Martin watches Ben and Lucy watches Martin. For her part, Serena almost pities Benís constant, lifelong fawning.

Day wraps her gorgeous prose around Martin, making his story sensuous and narcotic, faintly erotic as he paints a complex portrait of the Fitzmaurices, who always seems to be looking inward while playing at a pretense of generosity. Martin is a rather malevolent spirit: if nothing else, he is polite and helpful and possesses social graces. Heís also diligent in maintaining his separateness from others to guard his emotions. His downfall may be that he canít possibly pit himself against the power of men like Ben with his reputation, charm, and wealth, always so confident in the knowledge of how things work.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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