Sunday 22 September 2019

Snowstorm whodunnit serves up genuine nostalgia with a twist

Fiction: The Night of the Party, Rachael English, Hachette €15.99

The Night of the Party
The Night of the Party

Margaret Madden

January 1982, Kilmitten, West Ireland: The Crossans are hosting their annual 'After Christmas' party. Twelve-year-old Tom has secretly planned a party in his parents' garden shed. He manages to sneak a couple of beers and a few stolen cigarettes to share with friends Conor, Tess and Nina. But things take a dramatic turn when the body of local priest, Fr Galvin, is discovered on the kitchen floor of the Crossan house. The night of the party becomes one filled with lies and omissions.

Spanning four decades, The Night of the Party is a whodunnit with a nostalgic twist. Beginning during the 1982 snow storm - which placed Ireland at a standstill - the setting is idyllic for a group of children. They revel in the closure of schools: using election posters and fertiliser bags to sled down the snowy hills, and plan their own party, away from the watchful eyes of their parents. The 1980s vibe hops off the pages with memories of a bygone era. During a power cut, Tess addresses the lack of TV: "It's not like there was anything worth watching on the telly, anyway. I wish we had all the channels - or a video recorder. The Moynihans rented one for Christmas."

Nina says her boarding school has five channels: "We get the BBCs and ITV. [But] apart from the odd show, like Top of the Pops, we're not allowed to watch the British channels."

The story moves forward to the 1990s, where the four friends have moved in different directions. Tom has abandoned college, unable to face "another soul-sapping year at UCD where the concrete merged with the sky and 18-year-olds thought their opinions were all that mattered".

Conor, Tess and Nina spend their summers in London, where: "There was a pattern to the parties… Hordes of Irish people gathered in houses with English beer and American music and tried to be smarter, funnier and wilder than they'd been at home." Meanwhile, a documentary maker lands in Kilmitten, wanting to feature the Fr Galvin case. Tensions begin to surface, friendships become fractured and lips remained sealed.

It's 2016 and the former friends are now reunited. This time at the hospital bedside of Conor, now a garda, injured in a gang-shootout. He cannot let go of the night of the party and decides to do his own investigation. Tom, Nina and Tess are not happy. But why?

Rachael English writes Irish nostalgia with a genuine touch, bringing readers back to years long forgotten. The recent storylines were a little forced, with two being almost identical to recent events (think a gang-shooting in a Dublin hotel and a 'witch-hunt' of a prominent 'dinosaur', accused of misogyny).

The Night of the Party is less about the night itself and more about becoming an adult before, during and after the Celtic Tiger. From legwarmers, phone cards and secretarial courses; through to family commitment and considering retirement.

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