Book Review: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

Seating ArrangementsWhat’s it about?
A New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Dylan Thomas Prize and 2012 L.A. Times First Novel Prize

The Van Meters have gathered at their family retreat on the New England island of Waskeke to celebrate the marriage of daughter Daphne to an impeccably appropriate young man. The weekend is full of lobster and champagne, salt air and practiced bonhomie, but long-buried discontent and simmering lust seep through the cracks in the revelry.

Winn Van Meter, father-of-the-bride, has spent his life following the rules of the east coast upper crust, but now, just shy of his sixtieth birthday, he must finally confront his failings, his desires, and his own humanity.

My thoughts

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.

Available from Amazon Seating Arrangements

News: Hay Festival of Literature Events – Maggie Shipstead


So yesterday my friend Helen and I attended the Hay Festival for the first time. The weather, the atmosphere and whole event was superb. It was excellently organised and a great day out for the whole family. It was brilliant to see a huge queue of children outside the book shop waiting to have their books signed.

Our first event at 11.30am was the author Maggie Shipstead talking with Allison Pearson. We’d not heard of either of these ladies but it was Seating Arrangementsa really nice opener to our Hay day.

Maggie’s debut novel Seating Arrangements was the hot topic of conversation. Originally starting out as a short story this novel won the 2012 Dylan Thomas Prize. The book is about a family wedding set in New England over the course of 3 days. Maggie gave us a short reading from the novel highlighting the lead character’s desire for sons when he has only daughters.

Maggie also discussed her education, being accepted onto the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and being taught by British novelist Zadie Smith and gave us a querky insight into Zadie’s headscarf!

Maggie’s next novel is about ballet called Astonish Me.

This was a really friendly interview and Allison Pearson obviously really enjoyed and recommends this book so I purchased a signed copy of Seating Arrangements  from the Hay Festival bookshop so look out for the review soon.