When I walk into the sitting room, I can see immediately that I’m doomed to die a long, slow, suffocating death. There’s a man wearing a sort of brick-red jacket and another man in a carefully rumpled linen suit and Charlie in her cocktail dress and another woman wearing fluorescent leggings and a dazzling white silk blouse and another woman wearing those trousers that look like a dress but aren’t. Isn’t. Whatever. And the moment I see them I want to cry, not only through terror, but though sheer envy: Why isn’t my life like this?...
The one wearing the white silk blouse shuffles along Charlie’s enormous sofa, which is made of glass, or lead, or gold – some intimidating, un-sofa like material, anyway – and smiles at me…
‘We were just talking about what we’d call a dog if we had one,’ says Charlie. ‘Emma’s got a Labrador called Dizzy, after Dizzy Gillespie.’
‘Oh, right,’ I say. ‘I’m not very keen on dogs.’..
They smile politely.
As it turns out, this is my major contribution to the evening’s conversation, and later on I find myself recalling the line wistfully as belonging to a Golden Age of Wit.
observations: The appalling dinnerparty is a useful setpiece of fiction, and this is a particularly good one, because none of it is life-and-death, nothing very major happens (in Anthony Powell’s A Buyer’s Market, Widmerpool has the contents of a sugar castor poured over his head in the supper-room at a dance), but still you can sweat through it with Rob wondering if the evening will ever end, but enjoying the horror. And it’s funny. And Nick Hornby makes it clear that though he tends to be on Rob’s side, it’s not the other guests’ fault – Rob is not much good on conversation, and has made his mind up from the start that everyone else is awful. NH captures beautifully that moment where young(ish) people are at different stages of their lives, and some of them want to discuss property prices and pensions, and others are still in squalid rented flats, going to nightclubs, and making lists of the 5 best B-sides.
Rob is tracking down his old girlfriends in an attempt to make sense of his life. Another one will turn up for a date at the cinema in
a big floral dress, a beige raincoat… ‘What’s that cool guy in the leather jacket doing with Virginia Bottomley’s elder sister?’ the audience is thinking. Probably.
Links on the blog: This book has featured before. A high-powered dinner party here, Royalty behaving badly at one here, Maugham’s Kitty in The Painted Veil meets her seducer while wearing her wedding-dress at this dinner party. A bad one on New Year's Eve featured here.
The photo shows palazzo pants – which we presume is what Rob/Nick means – and is from a fashion show at the Art Institute of Portland.