*Just a gentle note, may contain spoilers you may want to avoid*
I have never read a book by Elizabeth Day before but I kept seeing this book everywhere. I started following Elizabeth Day on Instagram and started reading some of her journalism and loved her writing style. So, when this book came out on paperback, I picked it up and read it in a few days. This book is everywhere right now with the paperback release and is part of Richard and Judy’s bookclub with WhSmith and has been on posters on the underground – there really is a buzz around this book. And for good reason, too.
The book follows Martin Gilmour and his obsession with his best friend Ben and his admiration for him. It centres around Ben’s 40th birthday party, hence the title, and we are first met with Martin in a police room as he’s being interviewed about an incident that happened at the party and we gather information, piece by piece through a series of flashbacks – from Ben and Martin’s time at school right through to Ben’s birthday party.
I won’t lie and say it was a book that I sat down and read in one sitting. No, I did find it quite a challenge, mostly because you have to get used to the multiple timelines and let’s be honest, Martin being a complete arse. But once you get the gist of the multiple timelines and Lucy’s (Martin’s wife) narration, you really get into the story and trust me, you won’t stop reading. That’s what I found about the book – you think Martin’s a complete arse, he is, of course he is, but we find out a lot more about who Martin really is, and once you get used to that, you start to fire through the book to get to the heart of the story and you really do start to care for Martin, especially towards the end of the book.
Overall, the thing that I took the most from this book is the fact that this is very clever writing. Day writes such beautiful prose that you just keep reading the same paragraph because it’s so beautifully executed, a pure skill. Throughout the book, there’s great characterisation, especially with Martin, our main narrator.
There are lots of themes across the book from the aristocracy, to being an outsider looking in (a personal favourite) but another favourite of mine was the exploration into male friendship. I found it really interesting reading about this, especially how far one would go because the underlying theme of the book is the bond, and relationship, between Ben and Martin. Just like Lucy and the other characters in the book, we, the reader, are the outsider, looking into the relationship between Ben and Martin.
Throughout this book, we see numerous sides to Martin but one of the most profound and interesting sides is the scenes with his mother, Sylvia. It’s clear that his relationship with his mother is one of the most profound relationships that has made Martin who the man he is in the present day. These are the scenes that you really start to feel sympathetic towards Martin. These scenes with his mother are incredibly moving and gives another layer, another understanding to the character of Martin.
This is a riveting read, a book that challenges you but is full of beautiful prose by Day. If you feel that Martin’s an arse, he is. Of course he is. But keep on reading and you will understand why he is an arse. Yes, he’s an arse. But not a complete arse. Go and read this book that everybody’s talking about. Like I said, even Richard and Judy are talking about it. After reading this, I want to read the rest of Elizabeth Day’s books and fall in love with her beautiful prose and her wonderfully flawed characters.
Have you read The Party? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!