Publication: 14th June 2018 by Muswell Press
It is the seventies and the colleges of Oxford are finally opening their doors to women. Sarah Addleshaw, young, spirited and keen to prove her worth, begins term as the first female academic at her college. She is in fact, her college s only female Fellow . Impulsive love affairs with people, places and the ideas in her head beset Sarah throughout her first exhilarating year as a don, but it is the Reading Party, that has the most dramatic impact. Asked to accompany the first mixed group of students on the annual college trip to Cornwall, Sarah finds herself illicitly drawn to one of them, the suave American Tyler. Torn between professional integrity and personal feelings she faces her biggest challenge to date.
I have to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book. I found the cover very intriguing and the mention of a reading party really drew me in. Then I started reading the book and I fell in love with the story and the main character.
The protagonist of the novel is Sarah Addleshaw. In 1976, she is the first female fellow at one of the colleges at Oxford University, which, at the time, was a novelty and Sarah had to costantly prove herself in front of her male colleagues. She is also chosen to lead, along with a senior male colleague, Dr. Loxton, to lead the annual Reading Party that, for the first time, will host a group of mixed students.
First, we are in Oxford where see Sarah as she struggles to fit in among her male colleagues and she prepares for the Reading Party. Then, we move to Cornwall, in a secluded cottage, where a group of students of different background and culture and two tutors spend the next seven days together, studying, taking long walks, and doing group activities. Sarah is not much older than the students, so, sometimes, you can see her struggle with her position in the group.
I loved that the novel is set in the world of academia and that the author put together a group of interesting characters with different views and different goals, and I was intrigued by the dynamics of the reading group. The one character that mostly left an impression on me was Sarah. She is intelligent and thoughtful and I found very authentic. Even though she is constantly judged and observed by her male colleagues, she is not afraid to speak her own mind. The novel is set in the 1970s, but because of the theme of gender equality, it still feels relevant.
I found THE READING PARTY beautifully written and I would recommend it if you are looking for an engaging, riveting, and readable story. I’d like to thank Anne Cater and Muswell Press for providing me with a copy of the book and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Fenella Gentleman studied PPE at Wadham College, Oxford, when it went mixed. She participated in two reading parties in Cornwall. After graduating she worked in publishing, before moving into marketing and communications in the professions. She lives in London and North Norfolk.