Book Club: Upstairs at the Party

Posted on 9th August 2015 by Rob Chilver
One of our booksellers introduces this week's Book Club book by Linda Grant, plus read the opening pages.
Our Book Club choice this week is Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant. Told with her hallmark humour, intelligence and boldness, Upstairs at the Party is a powerful and captivating novel about secrets and the moments that shape our lives.

Laura, a bookseller at our Reading Broad Street shop, writes: "I highly recommend this novel – not only is the subject matter really interesting, but also the writing is so beautiful that at times I found myself in tears simply because of the sheer amount of feeling that it contained. I really enjoy quite character-focused novels, and to me this was one of the best ones I’ve read. The cast of characters is varied and, while many of them are significantly larger than life, they are all relatable in some way. I also particularly enjoyed the way the theme of memory ran through the whole novel, and the question of whether the account that we give of events has to be entirely truthful. This is so much more than just a campus story – it addresses much deeper questions which extend far beyond the university experience. I’m now so excited to read some of Grant’s earlier work!" 

Intrigued? Read the opening pages below.

If you go back and look at your life there are certain scenes, acts, or maybe just incidents, on which everything that follows seems to depend. If only you could narrate them, then you might be under- stood. I mean the part of yourself  that you   don’t know how to explain.
It  is to do with growing out of strange ground, as if you came from a country almost no one has visited, and no one knows its language and customs or terrain. If I was from Timbuktu I could not be more exotic. Juan once said, ‘You’re from Atlantis. You’re a refugee from a continent that has fallen into the sea.’

These are the reflections of my maturity. Like everyone, I lived life  with  most   intensity when I was  young, and I was one of the careless people for whom time was not a dimension.

Most of time is history, but my era was myth. Nobody recorded it  because it  was so marginal and childish, almost nothing we started came to anything. In our isolated Yorkshire stronghold my friends and I knew with the green force of teenage certainty, the driving fuse of insufferable self-confidence, that human weaknesses like jealousy and personal ambition were going  to wither away. Men and women would play their roles in complete equality. War would be ended  by  the  collective   rule of wise female elders, the impulse to fight being some atavistic primitive urge of our forefathers, and our parents were coelacanths, an interim phase in the evolution of the species. There would be an end to vanity, mirrors would fall into disuse, clothes would be no more than individual costumes, fashion would cease as time came to a standstill. The present would become the eternal now. When we died our bodies would be reincarnated as trees.

Eddie says, ‘Interesting. The dope must have been very different back then.

The sense of the past bricked up is more than us not having computers, mobile phones, YouTube, Wikipedia, gaming joysticks, iPads. Obviously our youth was like the primitive  tribes of the Amazon when it came to gadgets, but it was what was in our heads that the next generation just can’t comprehend, and how we tormented each other with our moral certainties. How our values were made up of ought and should, and how we hammered each other to death with them.
Of course all this  is hippie gobbledygook.  It’s Evie that I don’t know how to explain and about whom I have still not worked out a way   of  speaking.  Evie, a more primal question.    More   intimate and more    painful.    I rarely come   across any Evies;  Eves, yes, of course, but ‘Evie’still has the capacity to give me an electric shock, attached as it permanently is to one individual. As for her brother, I have had to get used to her face embedded in his. Nineteen-year- old Evie reveals  herself in his pale blue eyes,  occluded   now  by cataracts, the bags of flesh below them, the cantankerous mouth. But there she is. There she is.


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