Magazine article The Spectator

'After the Party', by Cressida Connolly - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'After the Party', by Cressida Connolly - Review

Article excerpt

At the beginning of After the Party, Phyllis Forrester tells us she was in prison. While inside, her hair turned yellowy-white, 'like the mane of an old wooden rocking-horse', not out of shock, she reassures us, but because 'one couldn't get one's hair dyed'. She thinks she deserved to be there: 'What I did was terrible. Terrible. The shame of it will never leave me until my dying day.' For a long time in Cressida Connolly's chilling new novel, though, it's not clear what she has done.

The year is 1979, and middle-class Phyllis, who is bitter and alone (her family don't talk to her any more), recounts her story to a voiceless interviewer in mannered, first-person chapters that interject throughout. We are then taken back to where it all began -- the summer of 1938 -- when Phyllis, her husband Hugh and their three children return to England after living abroad for a few years.

They stay with Phyllis's sister Patricia in Sussex while they look for a house; another sister, Nina, runs a summer camp nearby ('so many bods sharing a common feeling and purpose, coming together') and persuades Phyllis and her children, who have nothing better to do in the school holidays, to join in with the 'peace work'. Twenty-four years older than his wife and ill-suited to retirement, Hugh occupies himself with the 'movement', too. The cheery fun of these camps, however, turns out to be a smokescreen for promoting fascist ideology, and their 'irresistible' leader, known as 'Old Man' or 'OM', is Sir Oswald Mosley.

The book's defining feature is its subtle way of showing how Phyllis becomes subsumed into this sinister world. …

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