A curious invitation to some of the greatest parties in history
Last Tuesday Society founder Suzette Field has brought together the greatest parties in literature, in a book
There’s a polar bear in Suzette Field’s shop The Last Tuesday Society in the east end, a stretch across the capital from her home of Muswell Hill. It stands between two beautiful stuffed peacocks, an epic feat of taxidermy among a fleet of collectible curios that Field and her business partner have amassed.
This shop has seen a lot. It hit the headlines when Jane Goldman (wife of Jonathan Ross and another local) bought a two-headed foetal skeleton from there in 2010. Three of the polar bears (retailing at �28,000) have also been sold. There’s a film crew here today, shooting in the red basement where glass cabinets protect shrunken skulls, insect art and Japanese erotic images- all available to buy. A table in the shop betrays perhaps what is the newest item in the collection: A Curious Invitation, Field’s new book on the forty greatest parties in literature
In A Curious Invitation, Field dissects the festivities of fiction across genres, timeframes and locations. Delving into some of our favourite novels and works of fiction she unpicks the social events that give us a deeper understanding of the contexts of the works and their characters. The reader is taken on a stopping tour from Belshazzar’s Feast to Satan’s Rout, from Jackie Collins’ Beverley Hills party Hollywood Wives to the Anubis Orgy from Gravity’s Rainbow. Field cleverly unpicks what they wore, ate and what they talked about- a new take on some old tales.
“I found out a lot about the history of these works and discrepancies about stories that were told. Belshazzar was said to be the last king of Babylon in the Bible, but the dead sea scrolls tell modern scholars he may have just been a crown prince. There were some similarities across the writing. Conversations were the same, at Trimalchio’s party the conversation was about how youngsters disrespect their elders and the cost of living, so it seems not much changes.” says Field.
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It helps that Field herself knows how to have a party. She moved from her birthplace of LA to study Italian at UCL in 1996, and by 2000 had founded the Modern Times Club, running parties out of what was formerly the Great Eastern Hotel in Shoreditch.”All of my parties at the time were themed around decadence and the inter war period, I would start out with a film and I would ask everyone to dress up, invite a band, we would watch the film and then have a party afterwards. About three months into doing this, fewer and fewer people came for the film and more and more came for the party afterwards. I thought: Ahh I can now see what people are actually interested in. I had cabaret acts in different bedrooms in the hotel.”
Field expanded her remit, gradually producing more curious events and basing her parties on ones that appeared in literature. A popular one, even today, is a recreation of the Onion Cellar from Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum, dubbed as a ‘misery party’ by the press when it first opened in 2007. “It is around a chapter about a club where the ‘intelligent’ community go to cut onions and cry their hearts out.”
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An unstoppable social machine, Field is staging a party of epic proportions for Halloween inspired by five of the parties in the book : Bulgakov’s Satan’s Rout, McMurphy’s Ward party from Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Blossom Viewing Party from The Tale of Genji and a recreation of the Onion Cellar. Field has a mantra about her dos “You should look at a party as a piece of immersive theatre and the guests are your cast.” This, I learn, was how the shop started too. “The parties are ephemeral by nature and we just wanted to do something that was a bit more permanent. So we decided to open a shop. It was going to be a six month pop up shop. We chose who worked in the shop and we’d get actors who acted strangely or who treated people really badly. The idea was that we would stock disgusting and unsightly things that no-one wanted to buy. What actually happened is that people came in and still wanted to buy things, so we started selling them, that’s how it became a shop.”
A collector of taxidermy (which her teenage daughter forces her to hide when school friends visit), a theatrical party curator and ethereal environment creator- I ask Field why she approaches everything in this curious way? “I think the parties came from shyness. I never liked talking to people at parties and I always preferred a party where you could do something.”
The parties came first and the book later, but literature is one of Field’s greatest loves and hopes to write more. “My mum has an essay that she’s framed on the wall from me at the age of six that says: ‘I would like to read books for a living when I grow up’. She informed me that I couldn’t do that but when I was writing this book I sort of achieved that.”
A Curious Invitation is published by Picador on October 11 �14.99
Satan’s Rout, A Halloween Ball is on October 26 at the Coronet near Waterloo. More information and tickets from 08444 771 000