Sarahgilmartsarah.gilmartin Service 9781911590828

“Service” by Sarah Gilmartin

It is not often when finishing an author’s second novel I close it and think that is as good as the first, but Sarah Gilman has succeeded. Her first book, “The Dinner Party” has been popular with our customers and was one of our selections in Tewkesbury Direct. The theme of food even more present in “Service” as the setting is a restaurant in Dublin and the events that went on there some 10 years earlier. The minutiae of menus and individual dishes seemingly recalled with amazing clarity.

There are three principal characters who take it in turns tó recount the events from their own perspective or memory. Hannah, a University student earning some cash during the summer. Daniel, the chef and his wife Julie; they have two sons who are always in the background of Julie’s chapters and fleetingly in their father’s.

Daniel and Julie are a successful couple; Daniel having forged his career from humble backgrounds, similar to Julie’s, but they have made good, and the restaurant is one of “the places” to go and eat. The staff are worked hard, but can earn good money in tips. There are a lot of waitresses and other staff all of whom play essential parts within the book whether they are in the kitchen or serving the public. Also featured are asides on some of the clientele eating there; all these “extras” add to the main theme of the book.

Daniel has been accused of sexual assault and is due to appear in court. Julie finds the charges naturally hard to cope with, but while closing her husband out and distancing herself from him, she remains supportive and accompanies him to court. How this affects their two children, which you can imagine must be difficult for the boys to cope with especially at school, is portrayed well.

It is Hannah’s recollections and how her memories unfold that lead the story. Daniel as the head chef dominates the establishment, while other senior staff also have their own influence. Hannah learns her trade as a waitress, enjoying the lifestyle and experiences she is gaining after her rural upbringing. She is sometimes favoured, other times seemingly humiliated. The after hour parties, once the last guests go home, is when the staff let their hair down. Drugs and booze ever present.

Each of these three principal characters direct the storyline forward. Hannah’s always back in the past during her student life, refelcting on her youth while she is now divorcing her husband. Daniel and Julie remember the past but their focus is very much on the here and now, avoiding the intrusive press, or some of their acquaintances, with the court case ever present.

Sarah Gilmartin brings all the events together clinically, the background to what did or did not happen some ten years earlier being revealed to her reader, the book gaining momentum as the cort case unfolds.