24th July, 2019

Review: The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess (Henry Holt)

This book was a real treat and the pages just rushed by (in a good way). The Last Book Party captures the tranquility of summer days on Cape Cod and is a brilliant portrayal of the publishing world in the 1980s.

In the summer of 1987, 25-year-old Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer languishing in a low-level assistant job, unable to shake the shadow of growing up with her brilliant brother. With her professional ambitions floundering, Eve jumps at the chance to attend an early summer gathering at the Cape Cod home of famed New Yorker writer Henry Grey and his poet wife, Tillie. Dazzled by the guests and her burgeoning crush on the hosts’ artistic son, Eve lands a new job as Henry Grey’s research assistant and an invitation to Henry and Tillie’s exclusive and famed "Book Party"— where attendees dress as literary characters. But by the night of the party, Eve discovers uncomfortable truths about her summer entanglements and understands that the literary world she so desperately wanted to be a part of is not at all what it seems.

I adored Dukess' book for its lyrical descriptions of places and its wonderfully built characters. The author's writing flows gracefully and uninhibited so that the story just flew by and I found myself yearning for more in the end. The Last Book Party is a coming-of-age story with all its typical little misunderstandings, questionable decisions and stupid mistakes, but this is exactly what I liked about it as it perfectly captures what it means to grow up and to find your own way. And it is not only Eve finding out who she really wants to be, but pretty much all the other characters are also looking for guidance of some sort or other. The book made me a bit nostalgic about childhood summers in the '80s when there was no constant distraction in the form of the internet, mobile phones and social media. It was also a wonderful homage to literature as such with many delicious references to novels and poems. I also thoroughly enjoyed Dukess' descriptions of the Henry Grey household with its bohemian hippie vibe. Bookishness galore!! <3

I already hinted at the author's solid grasp of place which, for me, may have been the best part of the novel. When Eve and Franny catch the lobsters on the beach, the landscape descriptions were so vivid that I could almost feel the wind and salt on my face. You can easily tell that Dukess knows Truro intimately and is in love with the place, and she skilfully passes on that love to her readers. I've only ever been to Cape Cod once (Hyannis for a few days almost twenty years ago) but this novel brought me back to its tranquil summery atmosphere while I was sitting in my wee little house in a suburb in the middle of Germany with no beach in sight for about 300km. And I found myself thinking about the story all day after I had finished it, which is always a good sign.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves books, the 1980s and New England - it's the perfect summer read.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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