“The point is, we’re all grown-ups here. You talk about us being old – how old are you two? You’re not children any more. You’re in your thirties. These things…happen”
– At the Table
[ About the Book ]
To Nicole and Jamie Maguire, their parents seem the ideal couple – a suburban double act, happily married for more than thirty years. So when Linda and Gerry announce that they’ve decided to separate, the news sends shockwaves through the siblings’ lives, forcing them to confront their own expectations and desires.
Hardworking – and hard-drinking – Nicole pursues the ex she unceremoniously dumped six years ago, while people-pleasing Jamie fears he’s sleepwalking into a marriage he doesn’t actually want. But as the siblings grapple with the pressures of thirtysomething life, their parents struggle to protect the fragile façade of their own relationship, and the secrets they’ve both been keeping.
Set in 2018, Claire Powell’s beautifully observed debut novel follows each member of the Maguire family over a tumultuous year of lunches, dinners and drinks, as old conflicts arise and relationships are re-evaluated. A gripping yet tender depiction of family dynamics, love and disillusionment, At the Table is about what it means to grow up – both as an individual, and as a family.
[ My Review ]
At the Table by Claire Powell was published 31st March 2022 with Fleet and is described as ‘an unsentimental exploration of love and disillusionment…about what it means to grow up – both as an individual, and as a family.‘
At the Table is a brilliant portrayal of a family of four, Linda and Gerry and their adult children, Nicole and Jamie. On paper, life is perfect. Linda and Gerry have been married for over thirty years. Gerry is now a successful business man and Linda works part-time. Nicole lives a fast life. She works hard, plays hard and is one of the top dogs in her place of employment in the tech industry. Burning the candle at both ends is nothing new to Nicole and she prides herself on being the last one standing on a work night out. Her younger brother Jamie is a teacher and lives with his girlfriend Lucy. Engaged, with his upcoming nuptials around the corner, Jamie considers himself lucky.
But a family meal shakes up the status quo when it is announced that Linda and Gerry are separating. Shocked and appalled by this monumental change, Nicole is unaccepting and automatically blames her mother for this. Her behaviour escalates and she adopts more of the party lifestyle than ever before convincing herself that comfort can be found in the bottom of a bottle. Jamie is a more gentle sort, accepting of his lot, always malleable to the decisions of others. Jamie tends to go with the flow but suddenly, with this announcement, Jamie starts to question his own decisions.
As the family dynamic shifts and changes, each of them struggles to adapt. Although Nicole and Jamie are in their thirties, their parents still hold back secrets from their past. Parents always want to protect their children and Linda and Gerry are no different. Over a twelve month period, the reader is treated to a fly-on-the-wall type scenario, watching the uncertainty, the erratic behaviour, the disappointments, the frustrations and the overwhelming feelings of loss that each experience. Claire Powell has captured the atmosphere perfectly as the various stages of the process are brilliantly portrayed. Each individual is grieving for something in their lives and faces unexpected challenges and regrets, all wonderfully depicted in this very realistic portrayal of a family in meltdown. There is a metamorphosis of sorts and it really is lovely watching each member realise their place in the family and their place in life. A really gentle and immersive experience, At the Table is a gorgeous debut highlighting the complexities of the familial relationship with a very incisive pen.
[ Bio ]
Claire Powell was born and brought up in South-East London. She is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA, where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Bursary and the Malcolm Bradbury Continuation Prize. Her short fiction has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and in 2017 she won the Harper’s Bazaar Short Story Contest.
At the Table is her debut novel.