March 9, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
If you look online the summery of the book is written by Benedictus himself, and reads: “For twelve pounds and ninety-nine pence, I’d happily describe your granny’s weekly shop as “a freewheeling romp, by turns scabrous and disturbing”. And that pretty much captures the mood, style and humour of this book in one swift sentence.
The plot is simple in theory; a sub-editor goes to a celebrity party to get some gossip. At the party he witnesses a way of life he’s never got close to before, surrounded by the rich and the beautiful. Then he goes to the afterparty and it goes tits up.
But like so much of this book it’s not that simple. The narrative comes from four different perspectives; Michael the sub-editor, Calvin Vance the X-Factor sensation, Hugo Marks the actor throwing the party, and his model/junkie wife Mellody. Each perspective is written in a different font and usually overlaps on the dialogue a little bit so you’re never lost as to where you are.
It’s a fascinating thing to get inside the mind of two (usually the characters pair off) people watching the same event see how they perceive the world so differently. The differences between the youthful and naive Calvin and the older, more jaded Mellody are particularly funny and intriguing. It can sometimes take a couple of lines to realise which character you’ve slipped into but the story propels you forward and it quickly becomes obvious who’s eyes you’re looking through. Benedictus’ descriptions are vivid and colourful without distracting from the dialogue.
Throughout the book famous people show up, both real and fictional but recognisable. The actual celebrities feature dialogue taken from interviews and behave just you imagine they would (Elton John playing a ditty on the Piano) and the fictional ones all remind of one celebrity or the other. Benedictus highlights this celebrity culture up for ridicule; the politics they have to play, the decadence that comes with fame and fortune and the problems they all have to deal with. The Afterparty takes the celebrity culture we have in the UK and holds a mirror unto it perfectly. Celebrities will admire themselves in it while readers look on in horror, unable to turn their eyes away.
The leads are probably the worst, but they have more depth than being a simple stereotype. They’re totally believable. At times you see yourself and your friends in the characters, all the while hoping you’re not really like that.
Benedictus is an award-winning writer for the Guardian and his quality writing shines in this book. The story is dark, and there are a lot of events that if you were there would have trouble dealing with. Yet there is genuine humour all along the story. It’s not all macabre black humour either, some of it is feel good funny and overtime you put it down you keep on smiling.
Now, just like in the book, the review has a twist. There’s a whole separate story being unraveled alongside the party. Prefacing every chapter are emails between a fictional writer Mendez and his agent Valerie, describe the thought processes of where the story is going and their efforts to get it published. This sort of story telling has been called ‘metafiction’ and adds a whole different element to the plot. Think The Never Ending Story with drugs instead of dragons. Mendez deciding to make Hugo diabetic, saying he’ll make the changes to the earlier chapters and then introducing his EpiPen the following chapter (around halfway into the book) is a good example.
It’s not the first book to take on celebrity culture; Brett Easton Ellis (Glamorama) and Jay McInerney (Model Behaviour) have been there first, and some of the writing here reminds especially of Ellis. But this is an impressive debut; funny, dark, believable and enthralling. It takes a snapshot of celebrities and writing and shows you it’s not so pretty without Photoshop.
Book: The Afterparty
Author: Leo Benedictus
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Original at: http://sparksunderland.com/2011/02/28/afterparty/