Service by Sarah Gilmartin: Three sides to a story

Cover image for Service by Sarah GilmartinHaving enjoyed Sarah Gilmartin’s exploration of grief and family dynamics, Dinner Party, a couple of years ago I was keen to read Service. Even more so when I found it was set in a restaurant. Gilmartin’s second novel follows a celebrity chef faced with a reckoning, his wife who has chosen not to examine his behaviour too closely and a young woman still dealing with the fallout from the toxic culture over which he presided.

Theirs was a different world. You could smell it the moment you went back there, through the spices and sauces and the bins of leftovers. Talent and testosterone. 

Hannah’s divorce is about to be finalised when she sees the accusation of rape posted on Facebook by her ex-colleague. It sparks memories of the summer she and Tracy worked for Daniel Costello, not quite the celebrity he later became, and the adrenaline-fueled shifts she worked in his Dublin restaurant where all performed perfectly or faced the consequences of Daniel’s fury. Hannah was a student at Trinity, a country girl, quiet and unassuming who loved the thrill of her work and the after-shift partying until one night, things got out of hand. Daniel prided himself on running a tight ship, a self-made man who made excessive demands on his staff, picked for their looks and expected to tolerate diners’ bad behaviour. His work has always taken first place, an obsession which forced his wife and two sons into the background, a price which Julie has told herself was worth it for this man she fell in love with when she was a teenager. Daniel emphatically denies the charges made against him but Julie’s reflections on their marriage trigger doubts.

You were too full of your own stories, your voice set to megaphone inside your head, while the rest of us whispered asides.

Set in 2017, the year the Harvey Weinstein exposé was published, Gilmartin’s novel looks back ten years, unfolding her story from three alternating perspectives. Hannah recalls the post-shift hedonism, the pleasure of being picked out by Daniel and the discomfiture of the restaurant’s misogynistic atmosphere. Daniel is full of pride at his achievement, an egotism fostered by celebrity and the hierarchical working practices in which the chef rules the roost. Julie’s narrative is addressed to Daniel, recalling the many compromises she made for him. These three threads are smartly interwoven revealing a devastating portrait of abuse perpetrated in a multitude of ways, assumed to be perfectly acceptable by the abusers. So much has happened since #MeToo occupied the media that it’s slipped off the agenda. Gilmartin’s acerbic, incisive novel makes abundantly clear that it’s not just movie moguls whose predatory behaviour needs to be checked.

Both Rebecca and Annabel have reviewed this one, too.

One: London 9781911590804 256 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

25 thoughts on “Service by Sarah Gilmartin: Three sides to a story”

  1. It’s sad how relevant issues often drop off the media radar (perhaps once they’ve got as much as they could out of them). This sounds really well done with the multiple perspectives giving one different insights into the situation.

    1. I had several friends who worked in catering when I was young. It always struck me as a high pressure environment. Hope you enjoy Dinner Party if you get to it, Rosie.

    1. I thought Dinner Party was good but I’d say this is a step up. I don’t know if you read Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter but if you did and liked it, I’m sure you’d enjoy this one.

  2. I don’t think this is for me, but it’s definitely been on my radar as a possibility for some of my book subscription readers…so I’m glad to hear you liked it.
    The celebrity chef angle made me think of the recent film The Menu, which I haven’t seen. Not sure if there are any other parallels between the two, but it seems like fertile ground for various fictional stories…

  3. Thank you for the link – always appreciated. I didn’t get the Boiling Point feel so much, but the Sweetbitter TV series (I’ve yet to read the book) was very close to how I imagined the restaurant in Service. The way she tweaked your sympathies while reading was uncomfortably well done I thought.

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