After the Party by Cressida Connolly (Penguin 2018)
This fine novel tells the story of a woman who becomes involved with the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. Recently returned from overseas, she and her family settle in Sussex and get drawn into the excitement of a new political movement with much socialising involving camps and attractive activities for youth. They're all inspired by the brilliance and energy of Mosely - at the time no hint of the horrific implications, just the thrill of new ideas for reshaping society in order to make Britain a better place.
A group of privileged upper middle class friends, with superficial understanding and questionable values, have a terrific time organising and partying, and there are only hints of the truth which was that the movement became allied with disaffected and angry working poor with ugly consequences. Awareness of what's afoot comes very slowly to the reader as the truth is stealthily brought to light.
Its a story of tragic innocence as the woman and her husband, along with many others, are brutally arrested and imprisoned in Hollway at the beginning of the war; Mosely's connection with Germany made him a public enemy, his movement and followers potentially dangerous.
Connolly's writing is subtle, precise and deceptively simple: a marvellous example of 'showing not telling' offered by a novelist of intelligence and ironic wit. She shows how public events can play havoc with private lives - the novel charts the breakdown of family relationships as individual treachery comes into play. The woman's mild personality is no match for her much harder and more brittle sisters who avoid arrest.
The only criticism could be that the section concerning the imprisonment in Holloway suffers from her research showing too clearly - more documentary than novel. A minor quibble, for overall this is a fascinating superbly written narrative with dark modern resonances. It's a dreadful story of how a life can go fearfully wrong and how the woman accepts what happened to her with quiet and lonely dignity.
'Connolly is a terrifically subtle writer... [she] slyly sweeps her readers into the period drama as tensions tauten between families and social classes' Daily Telegraph
- Imprint: Viking
- Published: 07/09/2018
- ISBN: 9780241327739
- Length: 272 Pages
- RRP: £8.99
Biographical Notes: Cressida Connolly
Cressida Connolly is a reviewer and journalist, who has written for Vogue, The Telegraph, the Spectator, The Guardian and numerous other publications. Cressida is the author of three books: The Happiest Days, which won the MacMillan/PEN Award, The Rare and the Beautiful and My Former Heart. Cressida is the daughter of writer Cyril Connolly. In 1985 she married Worcestershire farmer Charles Hudson. They have three children.