Annabel Pitcher tells us about her ideal dinner party guests
Which giants of the literary world would you invite to a dinner party? We at Bookbag Towers just can't make up our minds. Thank heavens, then, for Annabel Pitcher, writer of the wonderful My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, who's given us a marvellous line-up in a guest article for us. Welcome, Annabel, and could we come too?
I’ve never really been interested in answering that question – who would your guests be at an ideal dinner party? Perhaps it’s because I’m a terrible cook and I loathe being the hostess. Imagine Woody Allen complaining about my chicken; or JK Rowling turning her nose up at the red wine; or Barack Obama asking if there’s anything other than Sainsbury’s chocolate cheesecake for dessert. The very thought brings me out in a cold sweat – enough to make contemplating the answer an unpleasant experience. But perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps my disinterest in the question stems from the fact that celebrity guests could only ever be a disappointment. So glossy and glamorous on their sky-high pedestals, we expect their presence at the dinner table to be equally airbrushed. We expect their banter to be as sharp as an Aaron Sorkin script. The reality would be somewhat different.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of famous people and all of them have been completely, mundanely normal. On screen, celebrities are larger than life. In reality, they’re so much smaller. Quite literally. Al Pacino was tiny. Meeting celebrities in the flesh is the equivalent of lights coming on in a club at the end of the night: in the harsh glare of reality, everyone’s flaws become visible. Picture the scene - Marilyn Monroe smearing concealer on a stubborn zit; Javier Bardem speaking Spanish with spinach stuck in his teeth; Martin Luther King twiddling his thumbs during an awkward silence.... This is not a dinner party I’d be interested in hosting.
But how about one where the guests don’t disappoint? How about an evening where the invitees retain their heroic quality, a charismatic je ne sais quoi, the fantastical element that captured our interest in the first place? A night where, instead of meeting famous people who surprise us with their human ordinariness, we meet our favourite literary characters who impress us with their fictional extraordinariness? Now – there’s a party I’d like to throw and a question I’m keen to answer.
First on the list of literary guests would have to be Kevin, the eponymous character in Lionel Shriver’s great novel. I’d have him in handcuffs, of course, what with him being a sociopathic killer and all, but there’s something fascinating about his dark intelligence and how he justifies mass murder. Next I’d invite Harry Potter, partly for self defence against Kevin – a quick stunning spell would be useful if things got out of hand – but mainly to talk Hogwarts and horcruxes and hallows. And at the end of the evening, it would be fun for my guests to have a fly on his broom. Oh, and I’d ask him to bring a bottle or two. A few glasses of butterbeer would help the party go with a swing.
I’d have to have Lyra, the feisty silver-tongued heroine of His Dark Materials, for the stories she’d tell and the lies she’d make up, and if I invited her then I’d ask her daemon too. Pan would scamper around keeping my dog company. Heathcliff would arrive next, all windswept and wet after his walk on the moors, and he’d not say much, just sort of sit in the corner being broody and marvellous. Gandalf and Dumbledore would arrive together, white beards blowing in the wind, and after a couple of pints they’d have a duel to settle one of my life’s big questions – which wizard would win in a fight? A knock at the door would signify Lizzie Bennett’s arrival in her mud-splattered dress, and I’d put her next to Heathcliff for a sneaky spot of matchmaking. Iago would slope in, cunning, manipulative and malevolent, and I’d sit him opposite Kevin. Listening in to their conversations would be a thrilling, frightening experience. Finally I’d have Anne of Green Gables for her indefatigable enthusiasm. Even if the chicken was terrible, the wine undrinkable and the supermarket cheesecake inedible, I reckon she’d love it anyway.
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Linda Lawlor said:
Interesting list of guests, there! Actually, I’d go a bit further: I’m always intrigued by the ‘faithful companions’ of heroes. Hermione and Ron would have plenty to say, I bet, as would Thursday Next’s family. And I bet Lee Scoresby would have a few insights into young Lyra’s character!