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Readers who admire careful, precise writing will thrill at Colegate's prose, which is so polished it sparkles here, avoiding pretension, excess verbiage, and empty lyricism. Instead, Colegate chooses words full of inference and irony, feeling and attitude. Broad themes, historical perspective, and a plot which contains a large cast of individualized characters from all levels of society come alive here in a mere two hundred pages.

Setting the novel in the autumn of 1913, before the outbreak of World War I, Colegate establishes her themes in the first paragraph, asking the reader to imagine an Edwardian drawing room of a country estate, with gas lamps, a log fire, and people from a long time ago, sitting and standing in groups. In the room beyond, a "fierce electric light" shines forth, overpowering the quiet, lamplit room, making it seem shadowy and the people like "beings from a much remoter past." The gentry in this snapshot are not naïve. Even they recognize that "an age, perhaps a civilization, is coming to an end," as industrialization and urbanization are changing the centers of power, and a war looms.

A lively cast of characters is invited to Sir Randolph Nettleby's 1000-acre park for a weekend shoot, and as they converse and interact, they quickly become individualized, the reader learning of their attitudes and prejudices, their understanding of the code of behavior, and the details of their very "civilized" lives. When the shoot begins and the beaters send the birds into the air, the symbolic parallels between the world as it has been, the world as it will be during the coming war, and the world as it may be after the war become obvious to the reader, and the death of one of the characters is not a surprise.

Colegate is never polemical, however, imbuing her story with a great deal of personal interaction, warmth, and feeling, and as the action unfolds, the reader feels simultaneously wistful about the loss of cultural identity which is about to occur and gratified that the stultifying "predictable-ness" of that life will change. This is a book to savor, written by a remarkable stylist whose prose clearly illustrates that less is more. One of the most remarkable novels of the last fifty years, it has also been made into an equally remarkable film, starring the unforgettable James Mason. Mary Whipple

Winter Journey
Deceits of Time (King Penguin)
The Shooting Party
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Scheduled for reprinting in December, 2002, this novel will thrill readers who admire careful, precise writing. Like a jeweler, Colegate has polished her prose till it sparkles, avoiding pretension, excess verbiage, and empty lyricism, choosing, instead, words full of inference and irony, feeling and attitude. Broad themes, historical perspective, and a plot which contains a large cast of individualized characters from all levels of society come alive here in a mere two hundred pages.

Setting the novel in the autumn of 1913, before the outbreak of World War I, Colegate establishes her themes in the first paragraph, asking the reader to imagine an Edwardian drawing room of a country estate, with gas lamps, a log fire, and people from a long time ago, sitting and standing in groups. In the room beyond, a "fierce electric light" shines forth, overpowering the quiet, lamplit room, making it seem shadowy and the people like "beings from a much remoter past." The gentry in this snapshot are not naïve. Even they recognize that "an age, perhaps a civilization, is coming to an end," as industrialization and urbanization are changing the centers of power, and a war looms.

A lively cast of characters is invited to Sir Randolph Nettleby's 1000-acre park for a weekend shoot, and as they converse and interact, they quickly become individualized, the reader learning of their attitudes and prejudices, their understanding of the code of behavior, and the details of their very "civilized" lives. When the shoot begins and the beaters send the birds into the air, the symbolic parallels between the world as it has been, the world as it will be during the coming war, and the world as it may be after the war become obvious to the reader, and the death of one of the characters is not a surprise.

Colegate is never polemical, however, imbuing her story with a great deal of personal interaction, warmth, and feeling, and as the action unfolds, the reader feels simultaneously wistful about the loss of cultural identity which is about to occur and gratified that the stultifying "predictable-ness" of that life will change. This is a book to savor, written by a remarkable stylist whose prose clearly illustrates that less is more. Mary Whipple
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It is the autumn of 1913, and Sir Randolph Nettleby, Baronet, is hosting yet another shooting party at his Oxfordshire estate. His guests include some family members and some titled friends. The days are filled with pheasant shoots, luncheons al fresco, elaborate dinners back at Nettleby Park, and idle flirtations and lovemaking. An army of servants looks after the Nettlebys and their guests. It's all very pleasant and comfortable, symbolic of a way of life that has been going on for centuries.

But all is not as it seems. Troubles are brewing at home and abroad, and there's talk of war, strikes, suffragette outrages, and economic difficulties. Some of the ladies and gentlemen are having trouble making ends meet, and cracks in the elaborately constructed facade of civilized life spread and grow deeper. The shooting is interrupted, first by an eccentric intellectual wanderer, and then by a tragedy in which one of the beaters driving pheasants is shot by a guest who isn't quite as gentlemanly as he appears.

Isabel Colegate's exquisite novel is less than 200 pages long, but it deftly depicts the vanished world of the Nettlebys and their servants and guests. Her wriiting reminds me of Jane Austen in some ways, and of Henry James in others. I finally read it after many viewings of the movie adaptation, and I like it even better.
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It is October 1913. A handful of sportsmen, including two of the best shots in the land, have gathered at Nettleby Park in Oxfordshire for the big shooting party of the season. They will bag hundreds of pheasants, as well as the odd woodcocks and hares, all flushed from the woods by an army of beaters under the command of the head gamekeeper. Joining the men for meals and drinks, as well as for some of the shooting drives, are their wives. And for each aristocrat there seemingly are three or four servants.

This world of English country society is being battered by all sorts of forces, including "industrial workers, screaming suffragettes, Irish terrorists, scandals on the Stock Exchange, universal suffrage." Sir Randolph Nettleby, host of the hunting party, worries that an era is coming to an end, similar to the decline of feudalism. "If the hierarchy to which he belonged were to be swept away by absolute democracy what could his son * * * expect to inherit?"

As the group ends its lunch in the field of lobster vol-au-vents, chicken mayonnaise with boiled potatoes, and champagne or lemonade, and as the beaters move off to begin the afternoon's drives with the hunters and their gun-loaders following, one of the ladies, Olivia Lilburn, observes that "it's like an army, * * * we have bivouacked and are moving off now to the front line." She wonders to herself, "Are we really all so beautiful and brave, * * * or do we just think we are?"

We readers know, of course, that those questions prefigure the Great War, which will break out in less than a year and over the next few years will shatter the world of the landed gentry.

Not everyone is as reflective as Sir Nettleby or Lady Lilburn. Most of the shooting party are preoccupied by such things as pursuing a discrete affair, identifying appropriate matches for their children, shooting the most pheasants over the course of the two-day hunt, dodging their creditors, and observing the proprieties attendant to being a gentleman or a lady. Meanwhile the servants and retainers have other concerns, and a few of them harbor rather bitter resentments.

Just as the world of the landed gentry of 1913 ended in death in the Great War, so too does the Nettleby Park shooting party of October 1913 end in death. That fact is announced on the first page of the novel, and the suspense over whose death it will be propels the novel. But THE SHOOTING PARTY is much, much more than a mystery. It is an extraordinarily keen and sensitive portrayal of a society on the brink of its rapid demise. And I cannot praise Isabel Colegate's prose highly enough; it is superb in its precision and poise.

I have not seen the 1985 movie that was made of the book, starring among others James Mason and John Gielgud. I understand the movie was much truer to the novel than usually is the case. But even if you have seen the movie, I urge you to read the novel, because it is first-rate literature. [Addendum: I have now seen the movie: while it is good, the novel is far better.]

This was my introduction to Isabel Colegate. I will make a point of seeking out other novels by her. She was born in 1931, making her yet another of the remarkable generation of accomplished British women writers born between 1913 and 1933. Others are Anita Brookner, Penelope Fitgerald, Penelope Lively, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark, and Elizabeth Taylor. And then there also is Doris Lessing, who, having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, is the most famous of the bunch - though, in my experience, the least enjoyable.
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Colegate is not a well-known author, not even in Great Britain, which is a shame because she's a first-rate novelist. The scene here is the late fall of 1913, the last pheasant season before the Great War, the true end of the old century and the beginning of the new. The setting is the Oxfordshire estate of Sir Randolph Nettleby, a thoroughly conservative but thoughtful and decent member of the landed gentry, and a famous host, as well. His guests include several ill-matched aristocratic couples, married only for reasons of finance and social standing (which opens the way to discreet affairs), and the author does a wonderful job of portraying them all in multiple dimensions -- especially Olivia and Lionel, both particularly sympathetic characters. There are also the house servants, and the beaters from the village who come out to assist in putting the pheasants overhead for the shooters -- especially the teetotaling poacher, Tom Harker, whose sudden death is the climax of the book. And there's even a wandering socialist opposed to blood sports for seriocomic relief -- though his last observation of the shooters is far from laughable. The effects of agricultural depression on the rural poor, the importance of private morality, the difference between "sport" and "competition," all are examined, satirized, and explained. At the end, she provides a "what happened to them" chapter, noting who died in the War, who survived, who had to leave town. Though I wish she had told us what happens to Ellen, the maid, and John, the footman, and to Sir Reuben, and to Tommy, who was already an army officer. Besides being interesting in its own right, this warmly written book would also be a good counterweight to _Gosford Park_.
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on January 20, 2012
This is an excellent portrait of the English nobility at the moment before the world changed, before the start of World War One. The characters will be familiar if you've read other books of the National Trust sort - the jovial yet worried host, his practical wife, a variety of couples who married for status and look to others for fun or love. What makes this book different is a sense that something is about to happen. It permeates the whole text. Given that the whole action revolves around a shooting party, the consequences could be serious.

The whole action of the book is like a cone. It narrows down to the moment where the shooting party goes wrong, then broadens out to trace, briefly, what happened to the characters once they left and the real shooting party began.

Very well written and definitely worth reading.
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I first became aware of this novel while watching the added features from the DVD. This author, Isabel Colegate, participated in an interview concerning her reactions to the film (1984 starring James Mason, Edward Fox and John Gielgud) in which she seemed to be very satisfied that the film had captured the essence and feeling of her novel. I had enjoyed the film so much it made me seek out the book and purchase it when I found it on Amazon.

The plot of the story has been fully discussed in other reviews and editorial comments. I knew I had enjoyed the film version but it was as nothing compared to the written word. Isabel Colgate is a new author for me but she has a wonderfully flowing and lyrical style of writing which kept me rivited to the story for its entirety. Another reviewer states that they did not believe the book took place in an atmosphere where the participants in the house party were aware that their lives were about to change. I strongly disagree with that statement. Yes, the sense of foreboding was felt more strongly by some characters than others, mostly among the male characters. But it is very plain throughout Sir Randolph Nettleby's thoughts and writings in his Game Book that he feels that change is coming, it is just over the horizon, and it is not going to be a change advantageous to himself nor the English rural way of life.

All of the characters are vividly and fully drawn in this gem of a novel. Even the most insignificant, little Flo Page who is sent to give a message to Tom Harker, is wonderfully alive in her role of sitting on the doorstep in the cold and dark, waiting for him to come home, until her lantern has used up almost all its fuel. No character was too insignificant for this author to use as an example of how different the layers of this society were. Cicely, grand-daughter to Sir Randolph, was constantly being chided by her mother for being too familiar with her maid, Ellen, and too interested in how her romance was progressing with John, a footman. Minnie Nettleby invited Charles Farquhar for the weekend, not because he was good at shooting, but because it was understood that Aline Hartlip was having an affair with him. It could even be said that the entire horrible incident which occurred was the fault of Gilbert Hartlip's wife. If she had not felt the need to practically goad him into unsportsman like behavior, it would have been just another shooting party like so many others.

Now for the uncomfortable part. I, personally, tend to humanize animals and other living creatures. My dogs are always called my babies and are treated like people. The hummingbirds, cardinals and gold finches are all given names (even though I can't tell them apart - logic doesn't matter here). You can see my point. I must say that this book does have an element in it which may cause discomfort to some readers. It is about excess in all walks of life during this time period. That excess extended to the killing of birds of all kinds for sport. After all, it is called The Shooting Party. I have to admit that I was uncomfortable thinking about the hundreds and hundreds of birds killed simply to provide sport and recreation for a group of men. I knew this was what it would be about when I began to read, but nothing prepared me for the feeling of wholesale slaughter and the total disregard for the lives of other living creatures which I found here. Granted the birds were used for food, but the ultimate reason for the party was to kill, to exhibit a proficiency in shooting and in helping your master shoot faster. This book is simply a portrait of what was a common occurance at these house parties, these things really happened. A film version can only go so far. This was way beyond what was portrayed in the movie and I began to have a real problem with reading about it.

Even saying these things, I still highly recommend this book. The snapshot of all these lives coming into such sharp focus with the pulling of the trigger one time too many was stark, vivid, and it made me uncomfortable. But it was a wonderfully told story.
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on November 22, 2013
This is the best portrayal of pre-World War I British upper-class society that I have read. It also hints at customs that were not broadcast around as we do today. The book also contains some surprises that I won't reveal.
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on May 11, 2008
i would like to thank reviewer mary whipple for pointing me in the direction of this fantastic book. it's a great old-fashion novel, full of complex and interesting characters, that paints a vivid picture of pre-world war I english society in a thoroughly entertaining story. isabel colegate's writing is dazzling to boot. upon finishing this book, i got on my computer and bought everything else that i could find by this author. if her other novels are even close to this good, that will have been money well spent.
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on April 23, 2012
What did the English upper class do for fun before the "Great War"? They shot anything that moved, gossiped and had affairs. It is unbelievable how many birds they shot in just one day, even though they raised the pheasants for this purpose and also shot any ducks that got in their way. Shooting parties were called a sport which hardly seems to apply when they had men to load the guns and drive the game their way. It was not considered sporting to keep score and when two men did the consequences were fatal. The ladies occasionaly joined in by watching, but mostly they shared an elegant luncheon and gossip and talked of their love life. All this changed after the war.
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