Friday, 11 July 2014

Guardian Books Blog: Toxic Dinner Parties in Fiction




rule 1: don't wear a football jersey to a dinner party


Today’s entry appears on the Guardian Books Blog, and looks at the worst dinner parties in fiction, the ones you really wouldn’t want to have attended. AND, special bonus for Clothes in Books readers, we have added some useful sartorial rules - each one related to one of the featured books (the one above is easy to match up). 

After a look at the Galbraith/Rowling mystery story The Silkworm (on the blog last week), the piece goes on like this: 
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's wonderful recent Americanah, there are two matching dinner parties, one in New York one in London, with uncomfortable talk, clashing cultures, and an open and not particularly friendly discussion about race. But in a key phrase we are told that one hostess doesn't mind because "unforgettable dinner parties happened when guests said unexpected, and potentially offensive, things". Is that why we love reading about them, too? – there are plenty of almost heroically bad dinner parties simmering in books.

Rule 2: don't wear those trousers that look like a dress


Helen Fielding stitched up the Smug Marrieds bullying the Singleton in Bridget Jones's Diary back in 1996, Bridget feeling like Miss Havisham and longing to say "I'm not married because … underneath my clothes, my entire body is covered in scales". Bridget can also manage to give a dreadful dinner party – blue soup – a tradition that continues with the American writers Sloane Crosley ("Trevor wants to have a threesome with someone at the table and you are the only single girl there") and Rebecca Harrington (one guest "pulls out a huge bag of chips and starts eating them in front of me".)

Rule 3: Even if they ruin your dress, don't make them grovel


Elaine Dundy's 1958 The Dud Avocado, about a young American woman living the Bohemian life in Paris, contains a terrific description of the guests having to work hard for their simple meal – "all four of us ceaselessly moiling and toiling from kitchen and studio and back again" to transport all the food. Then there's poor Becky Sharp at the beginning of Thackeray's Vanity Fair: flirting a little at dinner, she says everything from India must be good. She takes a mouthful of an unknown dish called curry, and then Joseph Sedley says "Try a chili with it Miss Sharp". So naturally she thinks that will be cooling. "She would have liked to choke old Sedley, but she swallowed her mortification as well as she had the abominable curry before it."




Rule 4: Don't wear flapping green velvet sleeves


More books mentioned in the piece are on the blog: Silver Linings Playbook; Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity; Edward St Aubyn’s Some Hope; Muriel Spark’s Symposium.

12 comments:

  1. Moira - I love this piece! Dinner parties are such terrific contexts for all sorts of plot complications, suspense and so on. All that interaction and all of those hidden agendas! And what a rich resource for fine clothes, too!

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    1. Thanks so much Margot, and I'm looking forward to a 'Confessions...' post on murder-filled dinner parties....

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  2. Nice piece at the Guardian. I have High Fidelity (and have seen the movie). I will have to read the book now.

    Dinner parties sound horrible to me, but then I am anti-social. In a previous life, when I was very, very young I had a pair of palazzo pants like that, not bright red.

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    1. I like the book very much, I find it hilarious, but maybe because I knew people like the characters. Did you ever see the film, with John Cusack? They changed a lot - giving it an American setting for example - but I liked that too. I don't think I ever did palazzo pants, and recently I threw out a pair of moderately wide trousers because I thought I was going to trip myself up in them....

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  3. Yes, I did see the film with John Cusack. I did not even think about them changing the setting. I like John Cusack a lot. Favorites are Grosse Pointe Blank and Ice Harvest.

    My palazzo pants were part of a jumpsuit I think and I only wore it casually around the house, but I remember it vividly.

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    1. Yes I really like John Cusack, though not familiar with Ice Harvest, I will look it up.
      Clothes live on in our minds...

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  4. Can I give real life examples - with extended family and the odd wedding? Perhaps, I'd better not.

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    1. Obviously time for you to write your own novel, Col.

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  5. Dinner parties, especially with family, can be murder ... love the photo of the blue dress.

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    1. Yes - I really didn't cover murder story dinner parties here, that needs an entry of its own.

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  6. Your Sparkling Cyanide entry goes well with this too! Really enjoyed reading your piece. I can think of a number of uneasy dinners in both The Provincial Lady and in the Mapp & Lucia books, but am too filled with Sunday sloth to go and look them up properly.

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    1. Thanks Vicki - I think you could write many articles on this topic without running out of bad mealtimes. I like your suggestions - all books that I love too.

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