After the Party by Cressida Connolly

This book was my book club’s September read, and I was really excited about it. The book cover and synopsis have a thirties/Great Gatsby vibe.

From the blurb:

‘I always wanted to be friends with both my sisters. Perhaps that was the source, really, of all the troubles of my life…’

It is the summer of 1938 and Phyllis Forrester has returned to England after years abroad. Moving into her sister’s grand country house, she soon finds herself entangled in a new world of idealistic beliefs and seemingly innocent friendships. Fevered talk of another war infiltrates their small, privileged circle, giving way to a thrilling solution: a great and charismatic leader, who will restore England to its former glory.

At a party hosted by her new friends, Phyllis lets down her guard for a single moment, with devastating consequences. Years later, Phyllis, alone and embittered, recounts the dramatic events which led to her imprisonment and changed the course of her life forever.

I’m going to cut to the chase and say I did not like this book. The synopsis and marketing were very misleading: it implies that the book is about the consequences of a single action, a mistake that Phyllis made during a social gathering, that led to some big drama and her imprisonment. That is not the case at all.

After the Party is about the real life events that took place during the Second World War and led to a thousand British people being arrested under Regulation 18B.

The “Party” was actually the British Union A.K.A. the British Union of Fascists.

Phyllis is incredibly naive, she is not a likeable character. She occasionally shows diplomatic potential, but consistently decides to turn her cheek to the many worrying things that were happening. Even after the war, when Phyllis finds out about the internment camps and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people she clings to her belief that Sir Oswald Mosley would have been a good leader and prevented this from happening in Britain. The rest of the world could hang. Even though she knew some of the Jewish refugees that were kept at the Isle of Man!

Phyllis insists she did nothing wrong, which I’m not sure I believe. She talks about Mosley’s charisma and his speeches, but she doesn’t mention the riots, vandalism and general thuggery of the “Blackcoats” as they were known.

There are two streams of narrative – in the third person as the events take place and a first person viewpoint in the 1970s. Phyllis in the seventies feels very sorry for herself because her children think that she is a disgrace, that her sisters avoid her, because of her political beliefs, but reading between the lines I can understand why. Her absolute denial about what actually happened is impenetrable. She gets annoyed at her daughter for blaming all her problems on her parents, but doesn’t realise she is playing the same blame game either sisters.

Even after the war Phyllis continues to associate with BU members.

I don’t think anyone should be punished for their political beliefs, but when those beliefs lead to aggression against other people, especially in a time of war, of course governments will take action.

This book is not about a social gathering. The protagonist has very little of value to say, it is her silence and the way she avoids certain aspects of her involvement with Fascism that speaks volumes. I can’t tell if the author intentionally made Phylis into a weak character to be loathed or if she is meant to be sympathetic and blameless. If I wasn’t aware of the BU and Regulation 18B already I may have felt some compassion for her.

The main issue I have with his book is the tone, it’s very vague and I can’t tell if it’s meant to be a satirical or sympathetic portrail of Phyllis. The book also lacks a character to get behind, and it really lets down a well reserched and descriptive historical novel.

I gave After the Party 2.5 stars on Goodreads.

Cheerio!

Stephanie Xx

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