New Year’s Eve, as described in fiction, is a grim affair

From The Economist:

New year’s eve is a moment of release, when the dry husk of the old year is discarded. Coming so soon after the expensive rituals of Christmas, it can provoke tired cynicism, but people of all ages still embrace the excuse to drown in sentimentality (or alcohol). It is an opportunity for fireworks, countdowns, bad dancing, claustrophobic parties and ropey television, or simply to pass out under a giant pile of coats.

In fiction, New Year’s Eve almost invariably proves a fiasco. Often it is tainted by doom or despair. In George Eliot’s novel “Silas Marner”, it prompts Squire Cass, a minor aristocrat, to host an opulent dance. His son Godfrey’s estranged wife, Molly, travels there, intending to expose his shabby behaviour, only to collapse en route and die in the snow. It is the date when Hans Christian Andersen’s little match girl freezes to death in the street, ignored by revellers, and when the title character in Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” weds the dogmatic hypocrite Angel Clare. In Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Looking Glass”, a young woman falls asleep on New Year’s Eve and perceives a future so haunted by death that, when she wakes, the dream seems to have cast a pall over her whole existence.

Less morbid, though still bleak, is the subgenre of modern novel in which a New Year’s Eve party exposes the fault lines in a marriage or in society at large. Margaret Drabble’s “The Radiant Way” features a couple for whom such a celebration becomes an unbearable chapter of “hints, glances, sliding words, oblique smiles, incomprehensible references”. In Brigid Brophy’s glistening, neglected book “The Snow Ball”, the hedonism of an end-of-year costume party amplifies the characters’ duplicity as well as their anxiety about it. Amor Towles’s “Rules of Civility” portrays Katey Kontent, a socialite, making merry at a jazz bar in Greenwich Village, where the prospect of New Year dangles “brightly coloured possibilities”—but also the sour truth that the race to grasp them is a ruthless competition.

Nick McDonell gives the occasion a sharply contemporary spin in “Twelve”, a portrait of Manhattanites cramped by privilege—one of whom, a drug addict, guns down half his social circle at a New Year’s Eve shindig. It is at a rather less edgy gathering to mark the same holiday that Lila, the bright star of Elena Ferrante’s passionate Neapolitan novels, looks at her neighbours and realises with disgust “how poorly made we are”. And there is surely no more hapless New Year’s Eve reveller in modern literature than the one Karl Ove Knausgaard pictures in his autobiographical novel “A Death in the Family”: a teenage plot to hide some cans of beer ahead of the night’s festivities turns into a roiling psychodrama about deceit, failure, rejection and David Bowie.

Link to the rest at The Economist