on 21 August 2014
Surprisingly good once I got started.
I'd been looking at this one and was undecided about whether I might enjoy it or not, heard bad things about it, finally decided to give it a try and then felt that I wasn't in the right mood for it.
Decided to give it a go whilst on holiday and found that I really enjoyed the book. I can't say that I really liked Winn, although by the end of the book I had taken to him a little bit more, but I found the characters interesting and complex and I was hoping the best for the family. There was an odd bit with an exploding whale and a funny bit where marriage was compared to preparation for death, but mostly the book was just very good.
I have no experience of wealthily American families, island homes, Ivy league colleges or exclusive clubs, but I had no reason to doubt that the author had observed them all perfectly and felt that she was both honest about and sympathetic to her characters. Will definitely read more by her.
on 21 July 2013
I first came across Maggie Shipstead and her debut novel Seating Arrangements at The Hay Festival this year. For those of you who are regular readers you may have read my previous mini blog post on the event.
The book is about a family wedding set on a New England island over the course of 3 days and is told from Winn's point of view - the father of the bride. He's very much wants to be a part of this elite WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture and this is discussed heavily throughout: the WASP culture, the background of Winn's family and how they came to be pitched in their society;
They wanted to be aristocrats in a country that was not supposed to have an aristocracy, that was, in fact, founded partly as a protest against hereditary power.
There all these clubs that that Winn is so desperate to be a part of, almost to prove his worth! However, he doesn't like big showy houses, he doesn't think that's how people show their wealth - the part with him breaking into the Fenn's house is rather funny!
"The size is downright silly. Everything's for show. Make the house big and splashy so everyone will know how much money you have , but your roof still leaks."
For the most part, the story revolves around Winn's relationship with his wife Biddy and their daughters Daphne and Livia, particularly Livia. They seem to be cut from the same page so to speak, even though Winn never thought he'd have daughters. From chapter 2 his desire for sons is evident, he has only daughters and he seems to think that his life would have been better in some way if he had have had sons. There is a particular scene when he escorts one of his daughters to university and there's a group of father's and sons and he lies about dropping off his son! Quite sad really that he couldn't be entirely thankful for what he had!
You could be duped into thinking this is going to be a regular chick lit book being as it's based around a wedding, however it's not fluffy chick lit in any way. There are some strong girl friendships running throughout but this isn't a soppy story at all, however I don't think I'll be giving it to my brother or dad to read.
I really like this passage about Dominique, in fact, I think she was my favourite character. She's a rock for all the girls particularly Livia and Biddy except maybe Agatha, I somehow think she disapproves of Agatha but then I do too.
"Female friendship was one-tenth prevention and nine-tenths cleanup"
Overall this is something a bit different, a pleasurable read, funny in places, easy to follow, set at a good pace with the actual wedding having a relatively short chapter which finishes it nicely.
I just really DIDN'T enjoy this. It's never a good sign if I delay picking up a book to continue, and this book took me twice as long as it normally would.
The characters and their story really didn't interest me. I didn't like any of them, or see important or insightful themes and messages in their story. Well-enough written, it didn't make me laugh, cry or care.
Sorry to be harsh, but I just didn't enjoy it and wish I'd not wasted 4/5 days getting through this.
The story of a man returning to his family holiday home to meet his wife and daughters for his eldest's wedding could be humorous, blackly comic, laden with sarcasm and biting wit. It wasn't. The bride is pregnant. His youngest is mourning a recently ended relationship. Her father is contemplating infidelity (with a bridesmaid). And wondering why he hasn't been accepted into a Club.
Nothing much of anything happens, lots is said and thought.
I don't mind slow books if they have a point, something biting or gripping to hook me. This was just too limp. Very disappointed.
2.5 stars but rounded up to 3, as the writing isn't at all bad, just dull.
I loved this debut novel by Maggie Shipstead and a book that genuinely had me laughing out loud at the travails of this very American family. Ostensibly an examination of the lives of the idle rich in Waskeke (a thinly-veiled portrayal of Nantucket), Shipstead not only brings us a marvellous depiction of this odd band of characters but very cleverly interweaves elements of the seminal American classic `Moby Dick' into the novel. Winn Van Meter, the patriach of the piece, is a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, not only preparing for the upcoming nuptials of his heavily pregnant daughter and the temptation of the firm young flesh of one of the bridesmaids but also his Ahab-like obsession of gaining entry to the prestigious Pequod golf club. Grappling with his position of husband and father but also his standing in the local community where what club you belong to and how affluent you are defines your status, the events of the novel unfold with gathering chaos over the course of three days. Around Winn are a motley assortment of equally confused and suffering characters notably his younger daughter, Livia floundering in the backwash of a broken relationship, a hasty abortion and a genuine sense of `where is my life going?'. Add to this an alcoholic, a louche but charming Lothario, a seductive temptress and a long-suffering wife and you have the perfect components for this witty yet well-observed examination of the human condition. The novel lends itself to a film with not only the strength of the characters but Shipstead's adept handling of place and atmosphere as the sea and green lusciousness of the island permeates the action throughout. An extremely entertaining and enjoyable debut...
on 3 February 2014
I struggled to continue to pick this book up each time but was drawn back to it I was regardless. It's not necessarily a page turner but I ended up enjoying it nonetheless.
on 4 September 2014
This book focuses on a WASP family with two grown up daughters one of whom, Daphne, is heavily pregnant and about to get married on a New England East Coast island where the family have a summer home. Featuring an ensemble cast, the story takes place over the weekend leading up to the wedding and spans Thursday to Saturday. The protagonist is Winn van Meter, and we also meet his wife Biddy, daughters Daphne, who seems well balanced and Livia, who is anything but. Also turning up over the weekend are the bridesmaids, various relatives of the family and those of the Duffs whose son Greyson is marrying Daphne. Therefore the interactions between all these characters are examined whilst focusing on Winn who is going through a late mid-life crisis, being obsessed with one of Daphne’s bridesmaids, who is young enough to be his daughter.
Alongside this we find out what is wrong with Livia and why she is so miserable and downcast all the time. This has much to do with another family, the Fenns. Jack Fenn, a contemporary of Winn’s and his family seem to hold the key to why both Livia and Winn are so unhappy. Winn has always aspired to be a member of the Pequod (it took me a while to work out that this is a club) and Jack Fenn, he thinks, is blocking his membership application. This is frustrating him further and the author then takes us back through a variety of flashbacks to Winn’s past and we see him as a young man; in the Ophidian club, in a relationship with Fee (who is now married to Jack), at university, meeting his wife and so on. The author attempts to show us how he got to where he is by this device. And where he got to is a snob, obsessed with being seen in the right places, what others think of him and an absolute social climber.
The arrival of all the guests brings us into a variety of situations which is where the only humour I could see in the book actually takes place. With the exception of Oatsie, whom I found to be amusing, I couldn’t take to a single character; though Daphne and her husband seemed to be well balanced and a good match. Everyone else seemed to be spiky, flimsy, selfish, wimpish or promiscuous. All the characters have very unusual names which I have never heard of which could have been a cultural thing but which made it difficult for me to warm to or relate to any of them.
The main problem with this book for me was the lack of real plot or drive. It reminded me a little of the Kevin Spacey character and his exploits in the film American Beauty.
The writing is excellent, for a debut novel, and as I really love the sea, I liked the allusions and imagery (apart from the whale; what was that about?). Unfortunately I wasn’t that bothered about the characters, or about Winn’s silly preoccupations and wanted to give him a good whack around the head and tell him to grow up and get a life. Unfortunately I can imagine this being made into an ensemble cast film with the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and the like. Would I watch? Maybe. I give it two and a half stars.
I arrived late to Maggie Shipstead's debut novel mistakenly assuming it to be chick-lit. The lit part is right, certainly, but although some of the action does admittedly take place at the beach (on the fictitious New England island of Waskeke to be precise) this is no frothy little beach read.
The story develops over three days in the run up to a family wedding. Arch-snob Winn Van Meter has never recovered from his disappointment of having daughters instead of sons and now Daphne, the older daughter, is about to walk down the aisle with a seven-month baby bump. Clearly, she hasn't been reading from her father's song-sheet. But what's really eating Winn is the fact that he can't get into the island's golf club. Nor indeed, the bed of bridesmaid Agatha who he's been lusting after for years.
Maggie Shipstead handles her cast of characters intelligently and her metaphors lightly. When a beached whale explodes on the beach, Livia gets covered in the detritus: "The smell was a potent cocktail of salt water, kitchen sponge, and death." The kitchen sponge is, I think, inspired. And in a tiny walk-on part, the wedding planner ponders the disintegrating pre-wedding dinner: "How many disasters had she prevented over the years, how many abandonments? How many cold feet had she warmed with rosy talk about the future and family and non-refundable deposits?"
There are any number of great quotes and convincing characters but the single most impressive thing about this book is the way it stands together as a perfect whole: really, a most accomplished piece of writing from an engaging and smart new writer. I was enthralled.
Maggie Shipstead's debut novel `Seating Arrangements' features various members of a rich New England family and assorted hangers-on, on the eve of the wedding of heavily-pregnant Daphne Van Meter to Greyson, a scion of the Duff dynasty.
The story is mainly told through the eyes of Winn Van Meter, who seems to be undergoing a mini-midlife crisis as his daughter's wedding day looms. The events take place over three days as both families gather at the Van Meters' summer home on an island off the east coast, and various ancient grudges and newly formed sexual liaisons cause tensions to rise.
In a house full of floral arrangements, seating plans and half-dressed, preening bridesmaids, Winn's sense of isolation from his family and general befuddlement is acutely observed. He describes his daughter Daphne (whose childhood ambition was to be a princess) as "a foreign being, a sort of mystic ... an ambassador from a distant frontier of experience". Her mother Biddy describes her, more accurately, as "Lady Macbeth".
My favourite character, albeit a minor one, is one of Daphne's bridesmaids, Dominique. She is something of an outsider, not having grown up in a rich, WASP family, and is able to contemplate the goings-on at a healthy distance. She observes that, ironically in a country which fought to be free of a monarchic system, the Van Meters and their friends seem to have established an aristocracy of their own, to which admission depends on who your parents were, where you went to school and (crucially for Winn) which golf club you belong to.
For me this book could have gone one of two ways - sometimes I find this sort of novel too introspective and angst-ridden for my taste, but thankfully, in this case the sharp observations and witty writing kept me turning the pages. I did feel it start to sag a bit in the middle, mainly when the younger Van Meters and Duffs were going about their romantic liaisons, but as the wedding day approached I was back in the saddle and eager to find out how it ended. A very impressive debut novel.
on 8 April 2015
Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangements takes place over three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in the lead-up to and the day of Daphne and Greyson's wedding. Despite Winn, Daphne's father, being the main character, the story is told from multiple points of view. This gives the reader an insight into how everyone - not just the main character - feels and interprets the various events which happen over these three days.
Shipstead's writing and imagery is beautiful. "The farm might have been the end of the earth. A thin seam of ocean sealed its fields to the sky, all of it coppered by the sun." And not only is she able to capture these scenes perfectly, but she interjects these long, languid sentences with short snappy dialogue which makes for varied and interesting reading.
Various characters offer us an insight into relationships, both romantic and otherwise. "Female friendship was one-tenth prevention and nine-tenths cleanup." "Because it turns out to be a choice, commitment - not some done deal."
Overall this is not a fast-paced thrill of a book, but it's not supposed to be. It's a gentle unraveling of a family, their friends and (soon to be) in-laws and the secrets that they all hold. I really enjoyed it.
on 31 May 2015
A funny and amusing book. Behind the scenes of seemingly privileged life of a New York banker, Winn Van Meter and his family centred on the wedding of the Winn’s daughter on an island called Waskeke that is probably based upon Nantucket. I loved the book as the point of view shifts across a wide array of, often deeply but understandably flawed, characters. Read this book if you are interested in the machinations of WASP life and you love a light, entertaining but at times moving read. The one problem of the book is that the main story only really takes place over three days so most of the book is flashbacks. I would say the ratio of flashbacks to actual story is about 1 to 1 and in general I prefer novels that have a ratio of no more than 1 to 4. Ie at least 80 percent of the book should be story with less than 20 percent of the book being flashbacks. In my opinion the novel is not suitable for the under 17s or the over 70’s. Would suit both male and female readers. Illuminating interview with the author can be found at the Darien (Connecticut) Library website http://darienlibrary.tumblr.com/post/24128298946/a-conversation-with-maggie-shipstead-author-of