20 Jan 2011
Review: "The Shooting Party" - On the brink of change
Just the title "The Shooting Party". And the lovely cover! I had to get my hands on this one but once I started reading it, I lost focus and put it aside but this week I finally managed to get it read on the plane from Paris. I like planes in that way, you get so much quiet time to read and relax - with absolutely no disturbances. It is perfect.
"The Shooting Party" by Isabel Colegate takes place right before the first world war breaks out and it chronicles the weekend party of a bunch of well-to-do upper class people. They are Edwardians and children of the Edwardians and their primary worries are centered on the hunt and their other pleasures. As the weekend unfolds we get insight into these people, their thoughts and dreams. At the heart of the party is Minnie, the wife of Sir Randolph Nettleby, the mother-in-law of Ida and the grandmother of the flighty, dreamy Cicely and the young Osbert, the child of the family. Then there are the guests - the ladies that lunch and gossip and the men who compete and whose sole focus is the hunt. And there are the locals, the teacher who oppose the murder of animals, the gamekeepers and servants who are the ones that make the weekend party a reality and who work behind the scenes.
It is a society at the edge of chance and as the reader, the spectator, I constantly had the ominous feeling that something dark was about to happen. You know that these people are living on borrowed time as the WWI approaches and will turn their lives upside down. That feeling of something dark approaching, an impending doom, is the strength of this novel. Colegate lets the contrasts play - the shallowness of some of the characters as opposed to the grim reality closing in on them, the murder and carnage of the hunt opposed to the so-called civility of these people, the love affairs and jealousy of the adults opposed to the uncomplicated affection that little Osbert feels for his pet duck Elfrieda Beetle. Those opposites are the heartbeat of the novel as the precise language, the perfect prose is its breath.
This is a beautiful novel and one that I will read again - and if you loved Vita Sackville-Wests "The Edwardians", you will also love this one.