Sarah Gilmartin: On Writing Service
Posted 3rd May 2023
Bestselling author of Dinner Party Sarah Gilmartin introduces Service – a scorching, engrossing novel about the fallout from a scandal-struck high-end restaurant.
Service is a story about the abuse of power, set in a buzzy, high-end Dublin restaurant at the height of the boom. It’s told from three perspectives – waitress Hannah who worked at T for one seminal summer during college, Michelin starred chef Daniel Costello, and Daniel’s wife Julie, mother to two teenage boys.
The culture in the restaurant is fun, frenetic, toxic, hedonistic, a colourful world to write and read about. Most people have been to a restaurant but this is a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on when the customers go home (or when they stay and party into the night). It’s a world that is constantly and literally set and re-set; like a show, it has the buzz of live performance. It’s a world that’s an awful lot of fun, until it isn’t.
For a story that examines toxic workplaces and behaviour, I felt that multiple viewpoints were necessary for depth and nuance. As a writer I’m drawn to ambivalence, ambiguity, grey areas. I’m curious about how people work, how they behave under pressure, what they do when they’re in trouble, when they think no one is watching.
The story takes place over two time periods – a trial in 2017 and a summer at the restaurant ten years earlier, at the height of the boom. Celtic Tiger Dublin was a time of great excess, excitement, greed, opportunity, power plays, rash decision making. With hindsight, it wasn’t a very safe place to exist, or to do business, and we’ve all been paying for it collectively as a country for the last fifteen years. This seemed the perfect backdrop for a story about the abuse of power.
The three voices in Service are very different from each other and I hope that readers will find something to like in each. The false humility of artistic food genius Daniel; waitress Hannah’s awe at a new and exciting world; steady, pragmatic Julie, who is outwardly supportive of her husband but seething inside. As their differing realities shimmer and shift, it’s up to the reader to decide who is telling the truth.
Service by Sarah Gilmartin is out now from Pushkin Press.