Elizabeth Day’s Books That Built Me: Megan Hardy

The Books That Built Me is delighted to publish a piece on Elizabeth Day’s Books That Built Me last week by Megan Hardy, one of the guests at the salon.

books eliz and me
Elizabeth Day and Helen Brocklebank discuss Elizabeth’s Books That Built Me choices. [photograph by James Gibson]
Maison Assouline warmly welcomed our guest, Elizabeth Day, to discuss her latest novel ‘The Party’. The book tells of the introverted protagonist, Martin, becoming infatuated with the enigmatic yet dazzling existence of Ben, an aristocratic socialite. Martin operates in a rather Machiavellian manner, befriending Ben to become part of his extravagant lifestyle.

Elizabeth and Helen’s colloquy opened up for the audience an insight into the mind of Martin, and Elizabeth’s inspiration for the character’s and novel’s development alike.

Elizabeth remarked that, having previously worked in journalism, “as an introvert, being a diarist taught me I had to acquire a sheen of sociability to survive”. Elizabeth shared that she had contemplated this need for extroversion, the need to be active in social situations, and wanted to explore to greater depths what it was like to instead be an observer, utilising her novel to pose the question: Is a quest to belong self destructive? I nodded yes, as the more we begin to fit in with our desired social crowd, the more we tend to hate them, and ourselves in turn as we perhaps regret altering our personalities for a careless group of people when we were in a position of vulnerability and insecurity.

A portion of Elizabeth’s joy in writing ‘The Party’ stemmed from her ability to concentrate on the flaws of certain social classes; “It was a fun mouthpiece to use to point a finger at the arrogant entitlement of some sectors of British class.”

The themes of the carelessness of the aristocrats and the vulnerability and desire to fit in possessed by the lower classes continued into the books that built Elizabeth. Via both the exquisite ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, and my personal favourite ‘The Go Between’, Elizabeth provided a window through which we observed the themes, and in broad daylight shined a light on how they informed and shaped her character Martin.

Patricia Highsmith, author of Mr Ripley, constructed perfectly the character of Tom Ripley, a middle class man who inveigles his way into aristocracy.

Ripley is a man in love with a gilded way of being, and he kills for it, wishing to embody Dickie Greenleaf. The links between Martin and Tom became increasingly evident; both were subject to difficult childhoods with the death of Tom’s parents and Martin’s mother being far from enamoured of him, in a rather ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ manner, alongside their repressed sexuality, as the two are in love with the idea of their antagonist however neither can separate the social status from the men themselves. In addition, the character of Leo Colston from L P Hartley’s ‘The Go Between’ exquisitely illustrates the vulnerability of an outsider and the self-regarding nature of the upper class that is only fed by Leo’s love and infatuation of the Maudsley’s, which is why they adore Leo all the same – he fuels their egocentric vanity. The duality in the novel between belonging and not belonging ties harmoniously with Martin, as he is still content with his outsider/observer position despite wishing to delve into the pools of upper-class-ism. The tragedy of these novels is that characters like Leo and Martin are there to cater to the vanity of the upper class family, and characters such as Martin and Tom adore the pedestalled lifestyle that they allow themselves to be used in order to become part of it, when in reality, the families care not for the lower class members that they believe to have adopted.

Helen noted that we have all experienced friendships in which we believed the other party to have cared for us much more than they did, and our moment of anagnorisis leaves us feeling hollow.

Despite the rather depressing tone of the previous sentence, the evening was cheerful and warm. Helen’s insightful interview technique enabled Elizabeth to enthrall and entertain the audience with her wonderful sense of humour and brought to me personally a wave of inspiration, reminding me why I have fallen in love with literature. It was an honour to be in the presence of other book lovers alike and we all, I believe, felt the effect of Elizabeth’s youthful charm.

All of us will experience moments of inspiration, moments that we cherish and conjure up from memory when we feel low or a little lacklustre. Inspiration, for us bookworms, surfaces in the pages of our favourite books and if we are lucky, from the bodies of great authors.

Megan Hardy, 26th July 2017.

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The Books That Built Sarah Perry

 

Sarah Perry’s second novel, The Essex Serpent – a compelling tale of superstition, science, love and friendship set in late Victorian England, winner of the 2016 Waterstones Prize and Costa shortlisted, has coiled its charm around readers everywhere since its publication in February 2016. Sarah herself is equally bewitching, as guests at her Books That Built Me discovered when we met to discuss six books that have inspired her writing.


Listen to the podcast below on soundcloud, or find it on itunes by subscribing to the Books That Built Me channel.

The Books That Built Sarah Perry

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Tess of the d’Urbevilles, Thomas Hardy

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Giving up the Ghost, Hilary Mantel

Silence, Shusaku Endo.

EVENT: Elizabeth Day, The Party

elizabeth day times
Elizabeth Day, photographed by Dan Kennedy for the Times 

I’ve always spoken with a voice that’s posher than my background” writes Elizabeth Day in this weekend’s Times magazine, “…people make assumptions about me, but those assumptions can sometimes work in my favour…. I’ve met peers of the realm, royalty, Old Etonians and the filthy rich and I’ve spent a lifetime observing the British ‘ruling class’ – those people with the stature, breeding, wealth or connections to be regarded as elites. I’ve also just written a novel about them, The Party, set in the heart of the establishment.

The Party, Elizabeth Day’s fourth novel, is peopled by the same wealthy, powerful products of the public school system she’s spent a lifetime observing,  but it’s a thousand miles from a jolly Jilly Cooper-ish romp around the Chipping Norton set that one might expect. It’s a dark, note-perfect literary thriller whose themes of obsession and betrayal, privilege and hypocrisy underscore how the establishment will always close ranks to protect one of its own.  Like Day herself, the novel’s protagonist, Martin Gilmore is an outsider, a scholarship boy given entree into the world of the privileged few by virtue of his relationship with his childhood friend, Ben Fitzmaurice. But Ben and Martin are bound together by a secret, and things come to an explosive head at a party to celebrate Ben’s fortieth birthday.

Elizabeth Day’s novel is acutely observed, brilliantly imagined, tautly plotted and, although often intensely uncomfortable, it’s utterly gripping. Imagine The Go-Between re-written by Patricia Highsmith and you have a sense of the skill with which she brings her world to life. Whilst previous novels have won both plaudits and prizes – her first won the Betty Trask Award – The Party is the novel in which Day’s considerable ability realises its potential.

I’m delighted that Elizabeth Day will be The Books That Built Me’s next guest, on Tuesday 25th July. In addition to her journalism – in print and on television and radio –  and her novels (she is awe-inspiringly productive), Elizabeth is the co-founder of Pin Drop, a storytelling initiative for adults which stages short story narration in exciting settings and her ‘literary happening’ was one of the things that inspired me to create The Books That Built Me.

Tickets to Elizabeth Day’s Books That Built Me cost £30 and include a hardback copy of The Party, a glass of Champagne Bollinger, and a chocolate treat. The event takes place at the very chic Maison Assouline on Piccadilly and doors open at 6.30pm with the talk beginning at 6.50pm.

£7 from each ticket will be donated to the National Literacy Trust – The Books That Built Me celebrates the great joy reading brings to all of us, and in particular, how great readers grow into great writers; giving the profits from the event to the National Literacy Trust is a way of helping young children access the great benefits of being able to read. Who knows, some of the children the charity helps may grow into the authors of the future.

The Party, Elizabeth Day, is published on 13th July 2017