Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 21 January 2013

Seating Arrangements - Maggie Shipstead

'A wedding was always an aphrodisiac, full of temporary pairings driven by vicarious hope.'

We meet Winn Van Meter as he is preparing to journey from Connecticut to an island off the East coast of America and meet the rest of his family who are getting ready for his pregnant eldest daughter Daphne's wedding. They are a well-off, privileged family, and Waskeke has always been a place he can retreat to for a break, to enjoy the calm. This time it will be very different, as the place will be filled with relatives and the family of his future son-in-law as they all gather for the big event.

Before setting off, his thoughts reveal that he is hesitant and daunted by what might happen during the days ahead: 'He would carry out his role gladly, but the weekend, now surveyed from its near edge, felt daunting, not a straightforward exercise in familial peacekeeping and obligatory cheer but a treacherous puzzle, full of opportunities for the wrong thing to be said or done.'

The book focuses primarily on the events in the couple of days leading up to the wedding, but also there are moments where the reader is taken back to earlier days to discover more about Winn's life and his family history. The novel follows him as he ponders his attraction to one of the young bridesmaids. There is intrigue as to whether he will give in to this temptation. During the narrative he looks back at his marriage, and some of the key moments of his life, questioning whether he took the right path. Winn had wanted sons not daughters. There is a persistent feeling that he is disappointed even now. Then back in the present, the cracks begin to show.

As the novel progresses, many characters are introduced, relationships are revealed and secrets are uncovered. I liked how the author depicted the different personalities of the bridesmaids, and also how she incorporated the prior and current troubles of the younger sister, Livia.

I particularly liked the character of Dominique, who is able to stand back a little and observe the Van Meter family and their traditions and the clubs they belong to and how they carry their wealth, and concludes that 'they wanted to be aristocrats in a country that was not supposed to have an aristocracy...'

I enjoyed this witty, sharp observation of one man and his family. The author is very astute and perceptive in depicting her characters and their emotions, the worries and concerns that gnaw away at them, even when they do have a seemingly comfortable life. 

I would definitely look out for future works by this author based on this debut.

Published by Blue Door, an imprint of HarperCollins

Reviewed by Lindsay Healy

I received this book via the amazon vine programme.


  1. Seating Arrangements sounds a good read Lins. I think most of us have those 'What if ...' moments but we can only live in the time that we've created for ourselves :)

    Loved your review.

    1. Thanks for commenting Shaz. That's true. I think the character here, Winn, has to realise that exact thing. x

  2. This sounds like a good read! I love the idea of a wedding being the scene of learning a bit more of the ins and outs of family dynamics (and secrets)

    1. It's a really good setting for all the tensions to come out, for the true relationships to show themselves, and so on. Clever idea. Thanks for commenting Melissa.


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