Reviewing Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements

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I was actually lucky enough to be given a copy of this book by the editor Laura at Blur Door Books. And when I had it in my hands I actually hugged it against my chest; I was that eager. I’d been hearing things about this book for a while before I had the chance to read it and everything that was said about it was positive. Then someone told me that there was an exploding whale – that was all I needed. I was sold.

Seating Arrangements is Maggie Shipstead’s debut novel. Set on a fictional island in New England it follows three days in the lives of the WASP-ish Van Meter family – Winn, his wife Biddy and their daughter’s Daphne (heavily pregnant) and Livia (nursing a broken heart). They have all gathered together for Daphne’s wedding and joining them are Daphne’s bridemaids, one of which is the lithesome Agatha.

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Behind the scenes of the wedding Winn suffers from sexual lust (for Agatha) and social lust – why hasn’t he been allowed to join the Pequod club? Winn’s reasoning fixes on his social rival – a member of the Pequad club who’s obviously sabotaging him, and on his youngest Livia who’s ex happens to be his social rival’s son, so again sabotage. The truth, when it emerges is so simple that it’s perfect.

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There are frequent shifts in narrative and Shipstead jumps from one character to another with ease and confidence creating subplots and sparks with a handful of words. Each sentence seems to compete with the other wanting to be the most poetic, the most beautiful and together the narrative is witty, lyrical, and lavish – there isn’t any skimping with prose in Seating Arrangements, something I was so happy about when I was reading it.

This book is all kinds of wonderful; the only reason it isn’t absolutely perfect is because of the wedding itself. After the build-up it was relatively safe especially in comparison to my favourite parts in the book – the aforementioned exploding whale and Winn’s brutally honest toast.

I have Shipstead’s next book Astonish Me on my Kobo just waiting to be read.

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