I love a dinner party scene. It’s an author’s chance to get the whole cast together and have them interact. The characters perform their social graces with various amounts of charm and hypocrisy. Then, as the night wears on and the drinking increases, relations deteriorate. People get nasty, say rude things and attack each other with cutlery.
Today’s List: My Favourite Dinner Party Scenes in Fiction:
1. To The Lighthouse, Virgina Woolf
Hosts: The Ramsays
Guests: William Bankes, Lily Briscoe, Charles Tansley, Augustus Carmichael, Minta Doyle, Paul Rayley
Menu: Soup, Boeuf en Daube.
Highlights: Mrs Ramsay wears “her golden haze”; the Boeuf en Daube is a “perfect triumph”.
2. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
Hosts: Seymour “Swede” Levov and Dawn Levov
Guests: Bill and Jesse Orcutt, Shiela and Shelly Salzman, Marcia and Barry Umanoff, the senior Levovs.
Menu: Cold cucumber soup, steak, red onion, shucked corn, beefsteak tomatoes, baguettes, strawberry-rhubarb pie, Burgundy wine, lots of Scotch.
Highlights: Seymour Levov learns his wife is having an affair with their architect (“why, beneath the florid expanse of Hawaiian shirt, were his hips and buttocks moving like that?”); Jessie Orcutt stabs Seymour’s father with a fork.
3. There But For The, Ali Smith
Hosts: Gen and Eric (GenEric) Lee
Guests: Hugo and Caroline, Richard and Hannah, Miles Garth and Mark Palmer, Terence, Bernice and Brooke Bayoude.
Menu: Lamb tagine and couscous (omelette and couscous for Miles), brûlée, wine.
Highlights: Terence knows a great deal about musicals; Richard calls Terence a “fucking pansy”; Miles goes upstairs “between main course and the sweet”, locks himself in one of the bedrooms and stays there for months.