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.
An uncomfortable pleasure to read ... There are small missteps — a long scene featuring a pot-laced brownie, Kate's perhaps overly quick improvement. But these are quibbles. Gilmartin's dialogue sparkles, and her understanding of family dynamics is sharp. Dinner Party is a smooth read, a true feast of dysfunction.
Observant ... It’s a sorrowful work, alert to the nuances of family life – the terrifying volatility and the stubborn loyalties – that make it such a crucible for drama ... Sarah Gilmartin wrangles these time frames and locations deftly enough, but she dangles the mystery of Elaine’s death so early and often in the novel that, at times, it feels like a visible device, clumsily prodding us to read on ... Gilmartin is at her best, though, in the set pieces that lay bare the dynamics of family life, from the bitterly rowing parents to the slow estrangement of siblings ... A novel about a monstrous mother and dysfunctional siblings may not seem to cover new literary ground, but Gilmartin is as interested in what keeps the family together as what tears it apart.
Sarah Gilmartin writes well and with lightness of touch about the half-light of Dublin winters in a small apartment, the interaction of street life with domesticity ... The novel interweaves three timelines and locations with aplomb, paying particular and convincing attention to the domestic geographies of childhood.