By Carol Shields
Winner of The Women’s Prize for Fiction.
In the ordered riotousness of Hampton Court’s maze, Larry Weller discovers the passion of his life. Larry’s Party presents an ironic odyssey through the life of a modern man.
As a previous winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, I had relatively high expectations of this novel. I also had no inkling of what the novel was about. Whilst a fairly pleasant and easy read, I struggled to really get into the story or really connect with the characters other than on a superficial level. The novel follows the life of Larry Weller over a 20 year period, and focuses on particular elements of his life over that period, viewing his life and relationships through these particular prisms and over the passage of time. I don’t feel there was any major revelation by the end of the novel and, for me, it was all a little underwhelming and unsatisfying.
A novel all about an average man through his life, marriages and divorces doesn't sound like a winner of the Women's Prize. So I approached Larry's Party with a little bit of trepidation.
However, Larry's Party isn't really actually about Larry at all. It's about life and relationships; how we move through and navigate these. It is about growing old, reflecting on the past and the passage of time. It's as much about the women who surround Larry as it is about Larry himself. This book is surprisingly relatable, funny and insightful. It is an easy read in the best sense - compelling and enjoyable; it entertains and does make you think but is never too taxing.
At times it gets a little philosophical, sometimes even melancholy as it reflects on life. But this is well balanced by a humorous, intrusive narrator, and a quirky narrative style which makes the novel incredibly unique. Occasionally the repetition gets a little tiresome but this doesn't really harm the reading experience. Likewise, at times it is a little dated in its reflections on society and politics, but given it is tied to specific decades this is to be expected.
Overall Larry's Party is a fun, enjoyable and pleasant read which may just catch you off guard with its humour and reflection on life.
This is a beautiful book in which nothing and everything happens.
We join Larry in his 20s and follow him into his mid-40s via two marriages, fatherhood and a career change. He makes mistakes in each of these endeavours but nothing too villainous – just the products of being emotionally unavailable or passive. He is an everyman and joyously ordinary.
Shields’ writing is exquisitely balanced between wit and poignancy. She manages to deliver a wry line or a hilarious quip (see the ‘Larry’s penis’ chapter) alongside an astute observation about the travails of life without missing a beat. It’s a glorious combination of prose.
Larry’s Party is at once profound and quotidian, reflecting the peaks and troughs of real life. It’s a gentle and hugely enjoyable read that absorbs you in the minutiae of life while reminding you about its greater meaning.
I read this as part of The Women's Prize Reading Women Challenge with Book and Brew. I loved this! What a joy to read something I would not have otherwise discovered. Insightful, kind, gentle - exactly what I needed in these difficult times.
I read this with my book group as part of the 25 years of The Women's Prize for Fiction.
This is not the sort of book that I usually would have picked up, but I did enjoy it even if it wasn't really my sort of thing.
I found this book intriguing compared with the other two books we read as it was written from a man's perspective. Each chapter tells its own almost independent story of a particular time or event that was in some way significant in the life of Larry Weller, an ordinary man from Winnipeg. Larry has had a life-long love of mazes since his honeymoon visit to Hampton Court, and each chapter title is accompanied by a drawing of a maze that seemed to represent Larry's life at that time. We see Larry go through big events, such as two marriages and divorces, but we also see him reflect on smaller, quieter period of his life.
My favourite thing about this book is Larry himself. I loved seeing how his character changed over time, with the author even replaying events from previous chapters to see how his perspective had changed, and I had a genuine fondness for him by the end of the book. I liked the writing too - it was descriptive and thoughtful, and I liked what it seemed to be saying about how men viewed their changing place in the world. Despite this being Larry's story, I also felt that it was strongly female drive, with the women in Larry's life playing major parts in it. I enjoyed the final chapter with everyone coming together for the titular party, and while the ending could potentially be considered a slight cliché I thought it felt complete - like Larry had found the centre of his maze.
My only issue with this book was the structure of it - each chapter seemed quite distinct and separate, like short stories, even though they all linked back. This is not a structure that I really enjoy as I find it a little hard to get into.
Overall this was a lovely, gentle read that I did enjoy.