Why Real Life Parties Are Rubbish Compared To Fictional Ones

Real-life parties have always left me cold, but now I've read Suzette Field's excellent book on literature's greatest parties I know why...
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Real-life parties have always left me cold, but now I've read Suzette Field's excellent book on literature's greatest parties I know why...

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I am now allergic to deodorant. I have no idea why, when or how this occurred. But now I have the choice of constantly stinking or buying hippie anti-perspirant from Whole Foods that contains nothing apart from a vague nod towards inhibiting sweat and a foul apricoty scent. Can you imagine anything so humiliating? A deodorant allergy.

Wheat and dairy also seem to have a detrimental effect on my body. And I love wheat and dairy. All I eat is wheat and dairy in various incarnations. But now they have turned on me and cause me to bloat up like Emergency Airplane Life Vest. This pains me.

I fear that as I grow older another potential allergy is forming inside me. A party allergy. As I’ve aged, get-togethers have drifted from exciting, life-defining nights out to a painful necessary evil. Whether attending or throwing, they tend to provoke a quite staggering amount of sighing and hopeful signs of oncoming flu.

As I was born in late August, my birthday fell in that summer holiday dead zone where most of my social circle was somewhere in Wales trying to devise a way to successfully masturbate in a static caravan

It possibly stems from my birth. As I was born in late August, my birthday fell in that summer holiday dead zone where most of my social circle was somewhere in Wales trying to devise a way to successfully masturbate in a static caravan. I never had parties. So I was never trained in party going. They always made me feel slightly resentful and uncomfortable as a child.

Later in life I became a biker chick. In that I hung out with bikers, but couldn’t ride a motorcycle. So I hung around with the girlfriends of the bikers and became a de facto biker chick. This was as pathetic as it sounds and my lowest ebb came when I got drunk on Rough Cider at one of their parties and the bikers were forced to call me a cab to take me home. Bikers don’t like calling cabs. It makes them feel less like bikers.

My party history continued to be a litany of misery. As a teen, for a fancy dress New Year do, I dressed in some kind of combat gear with manly black stripes under my eyes. But during the evening the black marks slowly smudged and spread until by the end of the evening I was basically in blackface. Which I didn’t realise. And which no one alerted me too. And everyone laughed at.

And don’t even get me started on ‘work parties’. That’s an oxymoron if ever there was one. Like ‘fun run’. Or ‘compassionate conservatism’.

The best parties are not in Shoreditch, but in books

But if Suzette Field’s excellent read ‘A Curious Invitation – The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature’ has alerted me to anything, it’s that the best parties are not in Shoreditch, but in books. Not only has she gathered together examples of some of the finest bookshelf bashes, she’s broken them down into venue, catering, guests, conversation and outcome. You can match their triumphs and learn from their mistakes. Probably best to avoid Trimalchio’s soiree as reported in The Satyricon which featured a buffet featuring a boiled calf wearing a helmet and served on the point of a sword.

Or, if you want to ensure that no women will attend your party you could attempt to recreate Bilbo Baggins' Eleventy-First birthday and invite a whole host of Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs and Proudlocks – and not a broken male hymen between them.

Reading about the fabulous Gatsby parties, the Manderely Fancy Dress Ball from Rebecca and Odin’s Warrior Feast from The Prose Edda makes me realise that distaste for get-togethers may not be a medical condition but because my friends aren’t fictional. Even McMurphy’s Ward Party from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest appears more attractive than most of the festive events I get asked to. And there were better drugs.

Parties are a perfect cauldron for drama. Booze, grudges and confusing furniture choices tend to lead to a fight or an intimate liaison in the airing cupboard or both

One thing that ‘A Curious Invitation’ highlights is that parties are a perfect cauldron for drama. Booze, grudges and confusing furniture choices tend to lead to a fight or an intimate liaison in the airing cupboard or both. For every rip-roaring success like Jackie Collins' Beverly Hills Party in Hollywood Wives, there’s the demonic guest list of The Master and Margarita. For every Duchess of Richmond’s Ball from Vanity Fair there is the gathering in The Onion Cellar from The Grass Drum. But there a similar seams of love and intrigue running through all.

Former Vogue editor Plum Sykes coined the acronym SPDV (Same People, Different Venue) to describe the identikit nature of swank social gatherings, and it’s true that every party will see the same collection of archetypes propped up against a varying arrangement of kitchen units. So there’s always going to be a fat kid in accidental blackface, or a fat kid being poured into a cab by some bikers or some fat kid trying to cop off with a girl once rumoured to have fellated an Alsatian (the dog, sadly not someone from Alsace).  A Curious Invitation just reminds me that all parties are bad, all parties are always going to be bad and I’m never going to go to a good one. Because, like most things in life, the only good ones are fictional. The real ones, like deodorant, will lead to irritation, annoyance and a distinctive rash around the armpits and groin.

A Curious Invitation – The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature by Suzette Field is out now on Picador.

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