BOOK REVIEW: Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant (Review by Caroline Baum)

by |September 29, 2014

It’s not just the fact that this novel is set at my university in the north of England that makes me love it. It’s Grant’s superb ability to capture the feeling of the times in this terrifically authentic story about student life, especially the first awkward foray into relationships, friendships, infatuations and other uneasy human manoeuvrings on the road to self-awareness.

Personalities are tried on like clothes, and discarded just as easily. The same goes for identities. Class, intellect, sex appeal and success become increasingly significant markers together with envy and popularity. Mental illness hovers on the periphery, its dark presence prompting tragedy, together with inevitable guilt and regret.

Many readers will recognise something of their student selves in these psychologically acute pages. Grant creates utterly believable, three-dimensional characters with the same clear-eyed wisdom as Margaret Drabble before her.

Grab a copy of Upstairs at the Party here

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Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

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upstairs-at-the-partyUpstairs at the Party

by Linda Grant

The brilliant new novel from the Man Booker shortlisted author of The Clothes on Their Backs

‘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 understood. I mean the part of yourself that you don’t know how to explain.’

In the early Seventies a glamorous and androgynous couple known collectively as Evie/Stevie appear out of nowhere on the isolated concrete campus of a new university. To a group of teenagers experimenting with radical ideas they seem blown back from the future, unsettling everything and uncovering covert desires. But the varnished patina of youth and flamboyant self-expression hides deep anxieties and hidden histories. For Adele, with the most to conceal, Evie/Stevie become a lifelong obsession, as she examines what happened on the night of her own twentieth birthday and her friends’ complicity in their fate. A set of school exercise books might reveal everything, but they have been missing for nearly forty years. From summers in Cornwall to London in the twenty-first century, long after they have disappeared, Evie/Stevie go on challenging everyone’s ideas of what their lives should turn out to be.

Grab a copy of Upstairs at the Party here

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