It’s been 11 years since Ralph and Jem first got together. Thought to be the perfect couple and now with a three-year-old daughter, Scarlett and new baby, Blake, life should be filled with domestic bliss.
Only it isn’t. Full time Mum, Jem is frustrated at the lack of support from Ralph and when he announces he needs a break and wants to go to California to ‘find his mojo’ she is furious. But surprisingly, she finds the week without Ralph a revelation and with new friend, single dad Joel becoming an ever present figure in her life, she wonders if she does actually need Ralph after all.
Meanwhile, Ralph finds more than his mojo in California. He finds his spirituality. With his new found sense of peace and purpose he is keen to get home and be the supportive, loving partner Jem needs and deserves. And for a while it seems everything is fixed. But then something happens that will rock their relationship to the very core and force them to realise they have not only grown apart, they no longer know the person they thought they would spend their lives with. Can Jem and Ralph ever recover and get their relationship back on track? Is either of them willing to accept the other as they are now instead of wishing for the people they were all those years ago? Or is it time to face the fact that the destiny they believed in is no longer theirs and it’s time to move on?
I am a huge fan of Lisa Jewell’s books and have been excited about this one for quite a while. After The Party is a sequel to Lisa’s debut novel, Ralph’s Party, published in 1999, and I was certain I had read it. However, I had it muddled with ‘Thirty Nothing’ for some reason, and as it happens Ralph’s Party turns out to be the only book by Lisa Jewell that I haven’t read! Even worse, I ordered Ralph’s Party at the same time as ordering this new book, but something went wrong with the order and it never appeared! Happily, this makes not a jot of difference whatsoever, and I was still able to enjoy After The Party immensely.
The book begins with Jem and Ralph separated, and Ralph due to collect the children for his time with them. Only he doesn’t show up and it’s clear something is very wrong. Rather than being annoyed, Jem is concerned and its here the book goes back twelve months to chart the breakdown of their marriage. Jewell describes the resentment and complexities within the relationship with such realism it’s scary.
I have to say I connected with Jem immediately. At times I felt I was reading about myself, and how my marriage was affected after the birth of my daughter. Every thought and feeling Jem expressed was one I had felt too, in particular her feelings when Ralph leaves to go to California and finding it easier being alone than with someone you resent for not helping. This was something I very much related too, and felt slightly amazed that someone had captured those feelings exactly, its not something I ever really talked about yet obviously something felt by many.
But as much as I related to Jem, I was glad that Jewell didn’t choose to just make this book about her. In alternating chapters we hear from both sides, and I was also able to feel sympathy for Ralph. I guess as a woman who really understood what Jem was going through, it would be easy to dislike him, but I couldn’t. As Jewell presents his thoughts and feelings, it’s clear that both have issues and rather than talking to each other, they bury them and allow them to grow into deep resentment. There is fault at both sides, and the journey to realise that is simple, but deeply emotional.
There are few other minor characters within the book, but even these are both vivid and believable. I loved LuLu, Jem’s sister. Actually, I want a sister like her; she’s full of love and reason and her interactions with Jem were lovely, as well as providing some lighter moments. Joel, the single dad who Jem befriends is an interesting one. He provides an air of mystery and is slightly sinister, as I felt straight away something wasn’t right with him.
Lisa Jewell clearly has a great understanding of relationships, and this is what makes the book so compelling and engrossing. I doubt anyone could fail to see a little of themselves in Ralph or Jem. Because they are written with such honesty and sincerity, I began to care for them both very much, and really wanted to just scream at the pair of them ‘what are you doing to each other?’, all the while rallying for them both. There are things that both characters do that are unlikeable, but at the same time completely understandable and so absolutely human.
After The Party is a strong emotional read, which made me sad and angry at times, but also has a lot of heart-warming and hopeful moments too. Lisa Jewell’s writing flows so beautifully it’s easy to get swept up in and I had my nose glued to After The Party for the best part of two days. I’d highly recommend this book, even if you’ve never read Ralph’s Party as I haven’t and I still absolutely adored it. Five stars easily given and Lisa Jewell remains my favourite author in this genre.