Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Book review: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

My edition: Paperback, to be published on 1 July 2013 by HarperCollins, 415 pages.

Description: The Van Meters have gathered at their family retreat on the New England island of Waskeke to celebrate the marriage of daughter Daphne to an impeccably appropriate young man. The weekend is full of lobster and champagne, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust seep through the cracks in the revelry.

Winn Van Meter, father-of-the-bride, has spent his life following the rules of the east coast upper crust, but now, just shy of his sixtieth birthday, he must finally confront his failings, his desires, and his own humanity.



Rating:

Review:

Daphne Van Meter is to marry Greyson Duff and the story of Seating Arrangements takes place during the two days leading up to their wedding. Despite these two characters being the starting point for the novel it lingers far more on Winn, the father of the bride, and his obsession with respectability and being a member of prestigious clubs. It particularly focuses on his mounting frustration at being blackballed from the Pequod Club, a golf club on the island Waskeke, the membership of which he perceives the ultimate proof that he and his family belong in the world of the WASPs.

At times the interactions between the characters and the inevitable blow-ups are reminiscent of a farce, but at others the dark humour doesn't come across well and halts the storyline. In fact, when truly thinking about it, for a book of over 400 pages long and depicting the thorough history of not only the Van Meter family but also the Fenns, very little actually happens.

The novel's strongest point is by far the beautiful way it's written. Author Maggie Shipstead has a wonderful way with words and with gems such as "Female friendship was one-tenth prevention and nine-tenths cleanup" and "Tabitha was drinking orange juice through a straw so as not to disrupt the precise vermillion lacquer on her lips", this is well worth a read. It is not perfect by any means but for a debut it's a good attempt nonetheless.

And though the majority of Seating Arrangements takes place over the course of just two days, as the story flicks between the characters and their pasts are unraveled the reader is provided with a fascinating and often critical insight into the lives of an East Coast WASP family.


Many thanks to Lovereading for providing me with a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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