At the beginning of After the Party, Phyllis Forrester tells us she was in prison. While inside, her hair turned yellowy-white, ‘like the mane of an old wooden rocking-horse’, not out of shock, she reassures us, but because ‘one couldn’t get one’s hair dyed’. She thinks she deserved to be there: ‘What I did was terrible. Terrible. The shame of it will never leave me until my dying day.’ For a long time in Cressida Connolly’s chilling new novel, though, it’s not clear what she has done.
The year is 1979, and middle-class Phyllis, who is bitter and alone (her family don’t talk to her any more), recounts her story to a voiceless interviewer in mannered, first-person chapters that interject throughout. We are then taken back to where it all began — the summer of 1938 — when Phyllis, her husband Hugh and their three children return to England after living abroad for a few years.