Sarah Gilmartin's Dinner Party is a disquieting, utterly absorbing psychological drama fueled by family tragedy, maternal malfeasance and the pernicious tentacles of an eating disorder that has protagonist Kate Gleeson engaged in a daily battle with food. Raised on a farm in Carlow County, Ireland, with her twin sister, Elaine, and brothers Peter and Ray, 30-something Kate lives in a Dublin apartment paid for by her married lover.
The novel opens in 2018 on Halloween night with a family dinner commemorating the 16th anniversary of Elaine's passing. The events leading up to her shocking death unfold in an expertly choreographed dance between past and present. Vivacious Elaine, with her devil-may-care attitude, amber eyes and horse-riding rosettes, was her mother's gravitational center. Her death catapulted Bernadette, the already temperamental and often vicious Gleeson matriarch, into treacherous emotional territory. An anxious, fragile-looking Kate hosts the dinner party, featuring an elaborate meal to be topped off with homemade baked Alaska. Tensions fray even before the main course is over. Bernadette, although boycotting the dinner, is still hugely present at the table. Even as Kate's unraveling appears to be imminent, Gilmartin's narrative makes clear that, despite being repelled by her mother, Kate's recovery is also dependent on forgiving her.
A story writer who reviews books for the Irish Times, Gilmartin puts familial loyalty to the ultimate test in her first novel and highlights an important underlying truth Kate's late father was fond of repeating: "All we have is ourselves. All we have is family."--Shahina Piyarali, reviewer