“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.