Review: After the Party by Cressida Connolly

“Had it not been for my weakness, someone who is now dead could still be alive. That is what I believed and consequently lived with every day in prison”

Genre: General adult fiction

Similar to: A cross between Beryl Bainbridge and Mein Kampf – like Lolita but with fascism instead of paedophilia

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of mid-century historical fiction

Publication date: 7th June 2018

No, dearest reader – I haven’t entirely lost the plot by describing this book as a cross between Beryl Bainbridge and Hitler. It is not my fault that the tagline for After the Party is so utterly misleading that it makes it sound like a murder mystery, when in actual fact it’s about Nazi sympathisers during the war. 

No, really. 

The book focuses on Phyllis, the dull as ditchwater wife-and-mother who just does what everyone else tells her to, never questions anything and bobs along merrily into the fun little world of Nazi sympathisers. She is introduced to the British Union of Fascists by her sisters after returning to the UK from abroad and is soon an active member. As the book progresses, we learn how the government dealt with British Union members during the war and what this means for Phyllis and her family. 

I have to say that I had a number of issues with the book but let’s start with the positive. After the Party is very cleverly written. At first, it reads like a Virago Modern Classic, all complaints about the char-woman and getting out the best crockery for high tea. Personally, I’m a huge fan of mid-century “women’s literature” (I super-duper HATE that term) so I was cozily ensconced in the middle class, middle England world. I even quite liked the sound of volunteering to help out with organising the annual family camp – I assumed it was some kind of Scouting endeavour that focused on healthy sea air and bracing walks, with a jolly good sing-song round the campfire and lights out by 10pm sharp. How very jam and Jerusalem, I thought. Lovely. 

HOWEVER…

I’m not sure exactly what gave it away (I think perhaps when the children were given badges with a “distinctive logo” of a lightening flash) that something stirred in my memory. “Hmmm, this almost sounds a bit Hitler Youth” I thought absently. 

And then they started talking about The Leader.

And his name was Oswald Mosley.

And then I got what was going on.

But – infuriatingly – Phyllis didn’t seem to have any idea of the sinister nature of what she was getting herself into. And this is where my biggest problem arose.

Cressida Connolly made the British Union of Fascists sound like Butlins for people who simply didn’t want another war. There was absolutely no discussion of what it’s members were being lectured to about, what it’s policies were; even it’s views on Hitler (who is barely mentioned). Now, I understand that women were not expected to engage with politics so having Phyllis as a main character who appeared to not have a clue about what was going on was possibly realistic HOWEVER the fact that she continued to cling to these opinions into the 1970’s suggested that she was more aware than she let on. This made me really uncomfortable as a reader – almost like Connolly was presenting an excuse for fascism without really getting into the politics of it – presumably to continue to make Phyllis a sympathetic character. I hated this omission of details as I felt like I couldn’t make my mind up about the BUF members – how much did they really know? Were they brainwashed? What did they actually stand for? I NEED ANSWERS!

In saying that, I thought that the way that Connolly dragged the reader into the world of the BUF was pretty skillful. I thought that the writing was excellent and although Phyllis was frustrating as a character I did enjoy reading about her. Later on in the book we learn about the treatment by the British government of BUF members which is something I wasn’t aware of previously and was really interesting to learn about. 

Overall, I found After the Party an uncomfortable read but one that will definitely stay with me. 

Rating: Three and a half “Adolf who?” out of five.

A frustrating main character, an insidious inclusion of fascism and the expectation that I will feel sorry for a Nazi sympathizer – but well written and definitely thought provoking. 

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks Netgalley!

 

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