The sublimely picture-perfect township of Darley on Sydney’s exclusively elegant Northern Beaches appears, from the outside, to be a utopian haven for the wealthy and well-to-do…..or is it? As English author, Ali Lowe (she has lived in Australia for sixteen years), describes the fictional town of Darley, the setting for her soaring and poignant, yet relatable, debut novel “The Trivia Night”, we are told Darley looks “like perfect coastal bliss. Lush green grass, azure blue water, white picket houses”. Yet things are not what they outwardly appear in alluring Darley, and at the local outwardly-serene Darley Heights Public School.
The novel intricately follows the many trials and tribulations of five sets of parents from Darley Heights Public School. These parents are: the “arrogant” Luke Hampson, a cosmetic surgeon, and his laid-back and hippie wife, Lara, a radiologist, Pete Daniels, a conservative accountant, and his go-getting wife, Alice, who runs Abloom Events (“offering party planning and the like”), Ted Blackland, an architect, Amanda Blackland, a photographer for a real estate agency, Miles Makin, a chef at Pasadena restaurant, and his devoted wife, Zoe, as well as Victoria Day, a proud housewife, and her outwardly affable husband, Nico, a “trader”.
The novel begins at the start of the school year, in a searingly hot summer, when Amanda and Ted are new parents at Darley Heights Public School, after having transferred their seven year old daughter, Evie, from the nearby private school, St Cecilia’s. It transpires that Amanda and her daughter were caustically and mercilessly run out of St Cecilia’s by the outspoken and ruthless Victoria Day, after Amanda got ‘blind’ drunk at a Melbourne Cup party that Victoria was hosting for mums from St Cecilia’s, and vomited on an expensive rug of Victoria’s – topping it off by (accidentally) running over and killing Victoria’s treasured and much-loved family dog, Mr Perkins. Victoria has certainly enjoyed a life of opulence and great wealth, as Amanda notices as she attends Victoria’s Melbourne Cup party, “I was totally confused by this world I’d stepped into, of unfamiliar women in giant feathery fascinators and catering staff….they were all like Victoria – all of them weighed down by bling and genuine Chanel handbags.”
Now Victoria is a parent at Darley Heights Public School after she was forced to withdraw her children from St Cecilia’s after Nico “lost his job”. Victoria had been “St Cecilia’s Queen Bee”, and now it seems she is going to not stop short of making life an irredeemable hell for Amanda, as Victoria has never forgiven Amanda for ruining her priceless rug and backing over Mr Perkins.
Darley School mums seem to breathe rarefied air, as Amanda observes, “all of the mothers at Darley were so collectively gorgeous. They were all symmetrical, with smooth skin and blow-dried hair pulled up into silky, high ponies….every single one, was wearing activewear”.
Soon, at the start of the year, at the annual and highly-anticipated school trivia night at Darley Heights Public School, Luke, Lara, Pete, Alice, Ted, Amanda, Miles and Zoe are sharing a table. In the course of the eventful evening, copious amounts of alcohol are consumed by the couples, and many regrettable decisions ensue on the part of the four couples. Meanwhile, the revenge-driven Victoria takes some secretive photos of the alcohol-fuelled shenanigans that the couples get up to (not with their spouses); later threatening to put the photos out into the world.
Can Lara, Alice, Amanda and Zoe stop Amanda from ruining their carefully put-together lives and revealing incriminating photos of the couples before it is too late? Can the four women escape being murder suspects, after the four of them were vehemently arguing with Victoria just before she goes missing? Will Miles and Zoe ever have another child, after exhaustive IVF? Will Amanda ever be able to stop her excessive and life-eroding drinking?
Ali Lowe has written an intelligent, sharp and deftly-observed portrayal of lives lived in a locale where appearances are everything, and life is definitely never as it seems. “The Trivia Night” is in turns heartbreaking, insightful, shocking and uplifting. Several illuminating twists and turns develop astonishingly throughout the novel, many of which I didn’t see coming. Ali Lowe has captured so well the complicated lives of those living ostensibly in paradise, while having inward lives full of great turbulence and oceanic-like swells. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the intricate web of the lives of clusters of the parents from Darley Heights Public School, and I can’t wait to see what Ali Lowe writes next.