Happy New’s Eve, all! How better to celebrate on this special day than to read about parties from literature?
‘What do Plato, Jane Austen, Dickens, Proust and Jackie Collins have in common?’ asks the blurb of Suzette Field’s book, A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature. Very little, you might argue. And you would be wrong according to the author, who believes that their common link is that ‘they all wrote a good party’.
Field, one of ‘London’s top party organisers’, has collected together a whole host of ‘famous fictional festivities’. Some of the parties throughout have been lifted straight from the pages of famous novels from around the world, whilst a few ‘spring from the writer’s bizarre imagination, like Douglas Adams’ flying party above an unknown planet from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
In her introduction, Field sets out the criteria which she tried to stick to whilst writing A Curious Invitation. She states that ‘they had to be parties that are described in works of fiction, rather than the parties given or attended by writers’, all had to be taken exclusively from works of prose rather than poetry or plays, and all needed to be ‘as varied as possible in terms of genre, country, period and style’. She has aimed to create an ‘eclectic collection of balls, fetes, soirees, garden parties, receptions, proms, feasts, bacchanals and orgies’.
Thus, A Curious Invitation includes a vast range of sources, from The Great Gatsby and The Brothers Karamazov to Mansfield Park and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. There is an entry from the Bible, another from one of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books, and another from The Fellowship of the Ring. Each party has been set out well and a variety of points pertaining to each festivity has been included in each case. These range from a clear heading which states in which book each party can be found and the author who wrote about it, along with the dress code, guest list, food and drink served, the conversation, the entertainment, ‘the outcome’ of the party and ‘the legacy’ of the author.
The venues include a country inn, a German club known as ‘The Onion Cellar’, the house of a marquise, a grand apartment in Moscow which has been commandeered by the devil, and ‘a goddamn Beverly Hills palace’. The locations of these venues are as far-flung as Italy, New York, Japan, Brussells and Pall Mall, and even space and magical lands. The hosts range from ‘bald, fat’ Trimalchio in The Satyricon, who is described as ‘the perfect vulgarian host’, to a young French boy named Frantz ‘who is a student or a sailor or perhaps a midshipman cadet, no one knew for sure’. With regard to the invitations, in The Great Gatsby ‘people were not invited – they went there’; in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, ‘the guests invite each other to the party and the hostess herself is the last to find out about it’; and in The Fellowship of the Ring, Biblo’s invitations are all penned in gold ink which ‘would have been the ultimate status symbol among the local hobbitry, if it weren’t for the fact that just about everyone who lived in the area had been sent one’.
A Curious Invitation is well written and well considered, but one cannot help feeling that it would come across in a more positive manner had the author not used part of her introduction as a self-publication exercise. Despite this, it is fun, quirky and different and is sure to make a great gift for anyone who enjoys entertaining. A useful bibliography sets out every considered source, and the commentary which runs throughout has been written in a likeable and informative manner.