DINNER PARTY A Tragedy By Sarah Gilmartin @pushkinpress #DinnerPartyATragedy

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Kate has taught herself to be careful, to be meticulous.

To mark the anniversary of a death in the family, she plans a dinner party – from the fancy table settings to the perfect baked Alaska waiting in the freezer. Yet by the end of the night, old tensions have flared, the guests have fled, and Kate is spinning out of control.

But all we have is ourselves, her father once said, all we have is family.

Set between the 1990s and the present day, from a farmhouse in Carlow to Trinity College, Dublin, Dinner Party is a dark, sharply observed debut that thrillingly unravels into family secrets and tragedy.

As the past catches up with the present, Kate learns why, despite everything, we can’t help returning home.


This turned out to be completely different to what I had expected. I thought the whole book was going to be about the Dinner Party. But that’s how the story starts and ends. Every year, on Halloween the family get together, we start in 2018, Kate Gleeson is hosting the family dinner party her brothers Ray and Peter are there as well as Ray’s wife Liz. But their mother isn’t invited. Why? Kate has really made an effort with this meal everything perfectly cooked, but before the end of the night everything has unravelled, and you get the impression that this isn’t the first time that this has happened. The occasion is 17 years since Elaine, Kate’s sister passed away.

It’s clear from the start that this family have had problems, but it’s not until you read further into the story how deep those problems go. The story goes back in time to August 1999 Kate and Elaine are thirteen years old, they are twins but not identical twins. It’s also clear that the mother Bernadette has a favourite out of the two, from the inferences made. Seeing the family as a unit I couldn’t work out if it was a happy family, at times there was laughter. But other times chaos. The story tells of events taking the reader from the past to the present day. The father is a farmer, and the eldest son Peter is expected to take over the farm and run it, but is that really what Peter wants?

Most of the story is about Kate, but equally the domineering presence of Bernadette, it’s like no one ever knows what sort of mood she will be in, she can be fine one minute and flying off the handle the next, throwing a huge temper tantrum then reduced to tears forever demanding attention. I really couldn’t take to her. She was boastful and forever critical of everyone. When Elaine tragically dies Kate got the feeling her mother always wished it had been her. Nothing she ever does seems to be good enough, but then at times it seems the same for the brothers. Although I found them both to be very protective of Kate.

But the loss of Elaine wasn’t the only tragedy. A lot of the story revolves around Kate and how she has dealt with the blows that life has thrown at her. The way she has to try and cope with her mother, but also the destructive route she goes down with food, this is described quite sensitively but may be a trigger warning for anyone who has had or dealt with anorexia or bulimia, the impact that has on her life. The writer deals with this in such an empathetic way. I really wanted Kate to find happiness, I was rooting for her throughout.

The story is at times slow and my focus would occasionally slip a bit and then things would grip me again. But this is a beautifully written story of one family dealing with traumatic events,events that possibly hit some of her characters in different ways to the others, or just that they have different coping strategies. The final part is the family gathering on Halloween of 2019 at the family home, where again things blow up, mainly from Bernadette but you get the impression that that last meal is the family finally dealing with the issues.

At times a heavy read, but brilliantly written every family deals with loss differently. A family can either pull together and support each other or fall apart. A ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read.


Sarah Gilmartin is an arts journalist who reviews debut fiction for the Irish Times as well as a prize-winning writer of short stories. She is co-editor of the anthology Stinging Fly Stories (2018) and has just completed an MFA at University College Dublin. She recently won Best playwright for her short play Match at the Short+Sweet Dublin festival.

Her short stories have been listed for the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Award and Hennessy New Irish Writing. Her story ‘The Wife’ won the 2020 Mairtin Crawford Award at Belfast Book Festival in June. Earlier this year, Sarah received a bursary for her novel-in-progress from the Arts Council of Ireland. Sarah Gilmartin is available for interviews and to take part in events.

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