What keeps families together? Perhaps the more pressing issue is what drives them apart.
Sarah Gilmartin’s probing new novel Dinner Party: A Tragedy poses these two questions, wrapped in the tale of two young twin girls forced to learn the single, awful answer to both of them.
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Twin sisters Elaine and Kate Gleeson were once vivacious Irish teenagers, always spoken of together, as a unit, the most exciting girls of the area, pushed hard by their ambitious, socially demanding mother. But as the family come together for a meal in 2018, their mother is spoken of in resigned tones, their father not at all, and Elaine’s name only sets off tears.
The tension in the family is palpable from the first scene, when we get a sense of the unspoken rules of the Gleesons, rules all the more obvious for their silence.
Then we are flung back to the world of 20 years before in all its youthful vigour; the tales of this family, told around the dinner table over happy, fractured and traumatic meals, is what drives this novel.
Gilmartin is a writer who readers will be pleased to know; there’s enough here to satisfy those looking for a compulsive narrative drive to accompany the flowing dialogue.