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From the internationally bestselling author of Ralph’s Party comes a delightful new novel about the power of starting over.
Eleven years ago, Jem Catterick and Ralph McLeary fell deeply in love. They thought it would be forever, that they’d found their happy ending. As everyone agreed, they were the perfect couple. Then two became four, and an apartment became a house. Romantic nights out became sleepless nights in. And they soon found that life wasn’t quite so simple anymore. ...
From the internationally bestselling author of Ralph’s Party comes a delightful new novel about the power of starting over.
Eleven years ago, Jem Catterick and Ralph McLeary fell deeply in love. They thought it would be forever, that they’d found their happy ending. As everyone agreed, they were the perfect couple. Then two became four, and an apartment became a house. Romantic nights out became sleepless nights in. And they soon found that life wasn’t quite so simple anymore. But through it all, Jem and Ralph still loved each other. Of course they did.
Now Jem is back at work part-time as a talent agent. Ralph, a successful painter, is struggling to come up with new, hopefully groundbreaking, work for his upcoming show. But the unimaginable has happened. Two people who were so right together are starting to drift apart And in the chaos of family life, Jem feels like she’s losing herself, while Ralph, stuck on the sidelines, feels like he’s lost his muse altogether. Something has to change. As they try to find a way back to each other, back to what they once had, they both become momentarily distracted—but maybe it’s not too late to recapture happily ever after…
“Jewell writes, as ever, with wit and verve.” —Guardian (UK)
“A gripping examination of all the difficulties a modern couple can face.” —Daily Mail (London)
“Jewell stands out, providing insightful character studies... and she is so readable—you can fall into After the Party as you would a particularly soft settee.” —Time Out (London)
“Jewell's style is light and engaging.” —Daily Mirror (London)
“Lisa Jewell writes with such warmth—this is just lovely.” —Bookseller (UK)
"After the Party entertainingly marches its characters along the path to finally growing up." —Booklist
“Lisa Jewell has beautifully created realistic and believable situations… seamlessly plotted, brilliantly written with fully crafted characters … a joy to read, a joy to share.” —Novel Chatter (blog)
Twelve years after their romance inspired the chick-lit bestsellerRalph's Party, a London couple is driven apart by misunderstanding and miscommunication.
New readers won't have much difficulty catching up with Ralph and Jem's history thanks to Jewell's (Roommates Wanted, 2008, etc.) capable interweaving of older events into the contemporary narrative recording the ebbing of intimacy. So what drained the passion away from this perfectly matched pair? Nothing more exceptional than domesticity, kids and slow, silent withdrawal. Ralph still paints pictures in the attic and Jem works part-time as a celebrity agent, but, despite their enduring love, this couple doesn't talk. He's never confessed his unwillingness to have a second child, and she's filled with unspoken resentment at his lack of support. Plus, she's gone off sex. Ralph takes a surprise holiday in Santa Monica and comes home strangely different. Jem, meanwhile, has befriended a local single father whose behavior arouses Ralph's suspicions. It's a long way round the houses back to reconciliation, and the route can seem frustratingly obstacle-strewn, but Jewell's easy prose and storytelling ability make for a pleasant enough trip.
The not-so-happily-ever-after is neatly dissected in an engaging if ephemeral sequel.
The twelfth anniversary of Ralph and Jem’s first kiss falls upon a cool, paper-dry Wednesday at the beginning of March. The wisteria outside Jem’s office window has yet to yield its cascades of perfumed lilac blooms and the hydrangea by the front door is stubby and only just turning green—spring feels a long way off although it is just round the corner.
At about three fifteen, Jem leaves her office, heading for an appointment in Battersea. She takes with her a small manila folder, her mobile phone, her handbag and a loaf of brown bread. Before she leaves she turns to her assistant, Mariel, who is making tea in the kitchenette, and says, “Off to see the recluse.”
“Oh,” says Mariel, “God. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” says Jem. “I’ll need it. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Mariel smiles sympathetically, and Jem closes the door behind her. The sad irony of a trip to Almanac Road on such an auspicious date is not wasted on her. She is painfully aware of it as she walks the fifteen minutes from the office on Wands-worth Bridge Road. When she gets there, she glances down, as she always does, into the basement pit of the house at number thirty-one.
Terra-cotta tiles gleam, newly laid and freshly mopped. Three small trees carved into pom-pom balls of varying sizes sit in shiny cobalt-blue pots. The front door is thickly painted in a matte shade of mushroom and dressed with nickel-plated knobs and knockers. Through the window she can see more mushroom paint on walls hung with black-and-white photography. Suddenly, two small hands and a baby’s head appear over the top of the sofa. Jem smiles. The baby smiles, then disappears again.
Someone else lives here now. A young family, a house-proud family with enough money to renovate the run-down flat they’d bought a year ago, and enough foresight to have done it when the lady of the house was four months pregnant with their first child, unlike Jem, who had spent the last night of her first pregnancy on a mattress in the dining room of her sister’s flat, her possessions piled around her in gigantic cardboard boxes, like a township, waiting for a woman in Camberwell to sell her flat to a man in Dulwich so that the owner of their new house in Herne Hill could sign the completion forms and hand them their front door keys.
Before the very neat and well-organized family lived here, a scruffy woman with a deadbeat teenage son and three obese cats had lived here. And before the scruffy woman with the fat cats, a young couple with matching bikes and raincoats had lived here. And before the smug, outdoorsy couple with the bikes, a man called Smith had lived here, alone, having an existential crisis that led, eventually, to his retraining as a Reiki teacher and relocating to San Francisco. And even longer ago than that, years before the man called Smith had lived here alone having an existential crisis, Smith’s best friend, Ralph, had lived here with him. And so, for a very short while, over twelve years ago, back in 1996 when Oasis was the most famous band in the country and football was, supposedly, coming home, when she was a child of only twenty-seven, had Jem.
Jem can feel it, even now, as she stands on the pavement, peering through the window at strangers’ mushroom walls—she can still feel the electric jolt of sudden promise, the thrill of new beginnings. She feels it for just a moment, and then it passes, because for some strange reason things have not worked out how she thought they might during those long-ago days and now it’s just a dull echo of a moment in her life when fate, chance and destiny all came together and took her somewhere quite remarkable.
She sighs sadly and pushes her hair behind her ears. Then she looks up, her attention taken by the clatter of a sash window being pushed open and then a loud male voice:
A small shiny object leaves his hand and hurtles toward her, catching the light as it falls, landing on the pavement within an inch of her toes.
“Let yourself in!” The large hands slide the noisy window back into place. Jem tuts and picks up the keys. She climbs the front steps and prepares herself, mentally, for the next half hour of her life. She picks her way through the debris of Karl’s life: forgotten T-shirts, a broken guitar, a shopping bag full of recycling, and, oh, God, a pair of underpants. She finds him on the sofa, eating a ham sandwich and watching an old episode of Murder She Wrote.
“I thought you said you needed bread?” she says, waving the loaf of Warbutons Malted she took for him from her own kitchen cupboard that very morning.
“I do,” he says, “that’s the end of it. Had to scrape some spores off it, make it, you know, edible.” He takes the fresh loaf from her and smiles, gratefully. “Thanks, Miss Duck.”
“You’re welcome,” says Jem, lowering herself onto the very farthest edge of a grubby yellow armchair. “What happened to the cleaner?” she asks, looking around the room.
Karl smiles, his catch-all “forgive-me-for-I-know-not-what-I-do-but-oh-I-am-lovely-aren’t-I?” smile. It is a good smile, a smile that has seen him through a ten-year career in B-list television presenting, but not quite a good enough smile to stop his killing that career stone dead after a terrible episode in the Australian jungle last autumn, in front of six million viewers. “I kept forgetting to pay her,” he replies in his smooth Irish croon. He shrugs. “Who can blame her?”
“How’ve you been?” Jem squints slightly as she asks the question, almost not wanting him to answer it.
Karl rearranges his large form on the sofa, so that he’s facing her. “Oh, you know, the parties, the premieres, the hot dates, it never ends.” He looks old. Not a line on his face, not for a man of forty-seven, but his face looks dead, as if someone has taken a sheet of sandpaper to him and scoured away all the gloss, all the glitter.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, you know,” she says, opening up the manila folder. “Everyone’s ready to forget.”
“What you got in there?” he asks, eyeing the folder skeptically.
“Well, it’s not money, that’s for sure.”
He winks. “Maybe I need a new agent,” he jokes.
Jem sighs. Jem is Karl’s agent, and Karl’s joke (this is not the first time he has made it) is not funny anymore. She takes out a letter that arrived this morning, printed on sky-blue paper. It is confirmation of a phone call that she had last week with a production company that is filming a series of interviews with “controversial” celebrities.
Karl takes it from her and scans it, rapidly, with a furrowed brow. “Jeez,” he says, “what is this—the Last Chance Saloon for Battered B-listers? Christ. You’re going to make me do it, aren’t you?”
Jem shrugs. “I can’t make you do anything, Karl. But it’s money in the bank—”
“How much?” he interrupts.
“Five thousand. And if you handle it well, if you paint yourself in a good light, it’ll open all those doors again.”
Karl puts the paper down on the sofa and picks up his sandwich. He stares at it disconsolately for a second. “If that’s what I want,” he says, so quietly that Jem only just hears him.
“Yes,” she replies, “if that’s what you want. But here’s the thing, Karl.” She pauses. She didn’t come here to give Karl a piece of paper. She could have put it in the post. And she certainly didn’t come here to replenish his bread bin. “Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t do the interview, I’m letting you go.”
The words are gone now, the words that Jem has been carrying round in her head for days, for weeks. She’s imagined this conversation a thousand times and every time her heart has raced, her skin has flushed. Letting a client go. And not just any client, but her first client, the one who started it all, twelve years ago. And not just a client, but a friend. It’s harsh, but it’s for his own good, she reminds herself—without the threat he wouldn’t do the TV interview, and without the TV interview there is no career for her to manage.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” he drawls. “That’s bribery!”
“Well, yes, though more gentle bullying, I would have said.” Jem pauses and stares at the sleeves of Karl’s pullover, which are encrusted with some kind of beige paste. “I only want what’s best for you, and I think this,” she points at the sky-blue paper, “is what’s best for you.”
“I know,” says Karl, “I’m not stupid. It’s fine. I hear you loud and clear. And yeah, okay, I’ll do the show. But if it backfires in my face, I reserve the right to sack you.” He winks at her, smiles, and then sighs. “I’m sure life used to be simple,” he says. “I’m sure there was a time.”
Jem smiles, thinking of a night, exactly twelve years ago, when for a while life had felt far from simple. Exciting, romantic, crazy—yes, but not simple. She thinks again about the way she’d felt when Ralph had proclaimed his love for her, when she realized that she loved him too, when the gates to the Rest of Her Life had swung open and she’d taken her first tentative steps onto the open road. And now she is here: separated, a single parent, inhabiting a desperate, heartbreaking place where she never expected to be. She swallows a swell of tearfulness and smiles. “No,” she says, “it’s never been simple. Did you know, for example, that it is precisely twelve years to the day since you beat up Siobhan’s boyfriend outside an art gallery?”
Karl smiles. “What, really?”
“Yeah. Really and truly.”
“You have a very good memory,” says Karl.
“Well, it is also twelve years to the day since Ralph and I first …”
“Yeah,” she laughs, although she doesn’t really feel like laughing. “It’s our sexiversary! Well, it was,” she adds sadly.
Karl nods knowingly. “How is he?”
“Ralph?” Jem still finds it strange saying his name now that the syllable no longer belongs to her. Once she hadn’t noticed the word leaving her lips; now it feels like something she’s borrowed from someone, something she needs to give back. She swallows another lump of sadness and says: “He’s all right. I think.”
Karl raises an eyebrow.
“No, he’s fine. I just haven’t really talked to him lately, that’s all. It’s always such a rush whenever I see him.” Jem has begun to hate the weekly handover of the children. She hates it when he’s in a hurry and doesn’t have time to talk and then hates it when he isn’t and he spills over into the new order of her life with his familiarity and his beautiful hands that she is no longer permitted to touch.
“Here,” says Karl, getting to his feet and feeling around the bookshelf beside the TV, “talking of blasts from the past, look at this.” He hands Jem a photograph. It is of a small child, possibly a baby, but hard to tell because it has lots of long dark hair. The baby appears to be Asian, probably Chinese.
“Siobhan’s baby,” says Karl, resuming his slouch on the sofa.
Jem’s eyes open wide. “She’s adopted a baby?”
“Adopting. She just got back from China. I think there’s still a long way to go, a lot of red tape, y’know?”
“Right,” says Jem, staring at the photo, at the little soul somewhere on the other side of the world, a tiny person without a family, whose whole destiny is about to turn on its axis. “Very brave of her,” she says, “adopting on her own.”
“Yes,” says Karl, “I know. That’s Siobhan, through and through.”
“How old is she now?”
“Siobhan? She’s, God, she must be forty-eight, I guess.”
Jem nods and hands the photograph back to Karl. “Good on her,” she says, “good on her.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, “she always wanted a baby and life didn’t give her one so she’s gone out and made it happen.” He pauses and stares at the photograph of the baby for a moment. “There’s a lesson in there for us all.”
“Yes,” says Jem, drawing herself up, readying herself to leave, “yes, there really is.”
Jem pushes open the front door. She has mixed feelings about Wednesdays. Wednesday is handover day, the day that Ralph takes the children for the weekend, or at least until Sunday morning. That is how their week is split. Jem gets the kids Sunday to Wednesday. Ralph gets them Wednesday to Sunday. They both live in the same postcode and equidistant from Scarlett’s school and Blake’s childminder, and the children barely notice the difference. But Jem does. It is both liberating and depressing in equal measure when the children are away. The house feels both full of potential (Books to read! Emails to catch up on! Clothes to sort through! TV shows to watch! Even, possibly, nights out to be had!) and devoid of life. Her existence feels both joyful and futile. And whether her children are with her or not, the sheer loneliness of living apart from Ralph can sometimes take her breath away.
She stops in the hallway and peers at her reflection in the vast rococo mirror that hangs behind the front door. It is a beautiful mirror, pockmarked and musty and still holding the scent of the distempered walls of whichever lost French palace it was rescued from. It is exquisite, flawlessly tasteful, but it is not Jem’s mirror. Neither is it Jem’s wall nor Jem’s front door. The mirror was picked up from a Parisian flea market, not by Jem in some uncharacteristic moment of extravagant good taste, but by her sister, Lulu, whose house this is and whose house Jem has been living in for the past four months, while she and Ralph wait to see what will become of them.
Jem and her sister see themselves as a modern-day Kate and Allie, but with a few more kids and a husband between them. Or the Brady Bunch, but with one extra adult. Lulu has her two boys, Jared and Theo, and her husband’s three older boys from his first marriage, who live here most of the time because their mother lives in Grenada. It is a remarkable house, Tardis-like, with unexpected mezzanine floors and rooms off rooms and secret roof terraces. It is an odd-shaped building, thrown together in the nineteen sixties. It used to be a pub. They bought it ten years ago as a set of flats and are still only halfway through converting it back into a house, so Jem and the kids have their own floor: a set of three rooms, a small terrace and a kitchenette. It is more than enough.
Jem puts down her briefcase and starts to unbutton her tartan jacket. The woman in the mirror gazes back at her—she looks preoccupied, she looks tired. She is about to sigh loudly when a noise distracts her. It is the unmistakable sound of her firstborn clattering down the stripped floorboarded stairs in her pink Lucite Barbie Princess slippers.
And there she is, her Scarlett, a vision in mauve nylon net and fuchsia polyester. But instead of sweeping this raven-haired, Mattel-attired lovely into her arms and squeezing her with every ounce of every moment she has spent thinking about her today when she wasn’t there, she looks at her aghast and says, “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Daddy’s not coming,” says Scarlett, throwing her embrace at Jem’s lower hips and almost knocking her over.
“He just called. He’s not coming.”
To her credit, Jem’s first reaction is concern. Ralph has never missed a Wednesday. Ralph lives for Wednesday evenings in the same way that Jem lives for Sunday mornings.
“Is he all right?” she asks, picking Scarlett up and heading for the big kitchen at the back of the house, where she knows her sister and brother-in-law will be.
Scarlett shrugs and runs her hand through the curls at the nape of Jem’s neck.
“Did you speak to him?”
Scarlett shrugs again.
Lulu is cleaning poster paints off a small vinyl-topped table, and her husband, Walter, is sautéing potatoes over the hob.
“Yeah,” Lulu begins, before Jem is even through the door. “He didn’t show up at six so I phoned and left messages on his voice mail—nothing—then I got through to him just now, literally about three minutes before you walked in.”
“And?” says Jem, putting Scarlett down and heading toward Blake, who is sitting on his knees in front of In the Night Garden with a finger up his nose.
“He sounded …” Lulu mouths the next word, silently, “weird.”
“Weird?” Jem mouths back, and Lulu nods.
“Anyway,” she continues, audibly, “he said he had to go away for the weekend; he said he won’t be able to have the children this week.”
“And he said this an hour after he was due to collect them?”
“Yes,” says Lulu. “I know.”
It is clear now that this is a conversation that needs to be had away from small ears, and Jem follows Lulu into the den, which is a small painted concrete box of a room off the kitchen and is where they keep their computer.
“What?” says Jem.
“I don’t know,” says Lulu, twirling a heavy silver ring round and round her third finger. “He just sounded … desperate.”
“Oh, God, what do you mean by desperate?”
“Just, like, like he was going to cry. Like it was all too much. And he said …” Lulu pauses, twirls the silver ring one turn in the opposite direction. “He said to me, ‘Do you know what day it is today?’ And I said, ‘It’s Wednesday.’ And he just kind of went, ‘Humph.’ And hung up.”
“Shit,” says Jem, putting the pieces together. “Our anniversary.”
“What, your first date?”
“First shag,” says Jem, distractedly. “First kiss. First, you know, us.”
“The night at the art gallery?”
“The night at the art gallery, yes.”
“Shit,” says Lulu. “Is that what it is then, you reckon?”
“Must be,” says Jem. “Should I be worried?” she asks her sister, feeling that it’s already too late to be asking that.
Lulu frowns. “Possibly,” she says, “though at least he hasn’t actually got the kids with him.”
“Oh, stop it, don’t even joke about it. God, what shall I do? Shall I go round there?”
“Well, he did say he was going away.”
“Yes, but maybe he meant away.”
“You mean …?”
Jem sighs and pulls her hair away from her face. “No, of course not. I mean he’s been a bit weird but not, you know …”
“Exactly.” She sighs again, feeling the weight of things she needs to do now that she has the children for the next few days: baths to run, stories to read, clean clothes to sort out. Plus a babysitter to arrange for Friday night when she and Lulu had planned a night out at the theater. But behind all that there is a terrible, gnawing sense that something is wrong with Ralph, that he is in some kind of peril. She remembers a terrible conversation she had with a woman on the street just the week before. She remembers the woman’s words. “Imagine if there was no second chance. How would you feel?” the woman had asked. “How would you feel?”
Immediately, Jem knows exactly how she would feel. Devastated. Finished. Dead. “Okay,” she says decisively, “I’m going to give him a ring. Upstairs.”
“Good,” says Lulu, standing aside to let her pass, “I’ll keep the kids out of your way.”
Upstairs, in the tiny room that she and the kids use as a living room, Jem pulls her phone out of her bag and calls Ralph’s home number. Her hands shake slightly. It goes to the answer-phone and Jem clears her throat: “Hi,” she says, “it’s me. Just got home. Erm, don’t worry about the kids, that’s okay, I’ll cover it, but just wondering …” She pauses, tries to picture the inside of Ralph’s flat, who might be there listening to her plaintive, slightly pathetic voice. “Actually, I’m going to try you on your mobile. Bye.”
She calls his mobile number and is surprised and overwhelmed with relief when he replies after five ringtones.
“I’m sorry,” he says, before she’s even spoken. His voice sounds soft and childlike.
“It’s cool,” she says, caring about nothing other than that he is not dead. “We’ve got it covered. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” he says, and it sounds to Jem like the kind of thing you’d say if you’d just been asking yourself the same question.
“Where are you?”
“In the car.”
“Right. And where are you going?”
“Er …” He pauses and Jem can hear the swoosh of other cars passing his, the blast of wind through an open window. “I was on my way, halfway there, to your place, then something came up.”
“Something came up?”
“Yeah, I’ll explain it all when I see you.”
“And when will I see you?”
Ralph exhales softly down the phone. “I’ll come for the kids next Wednesday. I’ll be there. I promise. I just need to …” The line fills up with cracks and bangs and shards of interference. Then it dies.
© 2010 Lisa Jewell
Posted September 23, 2011
This book was a great read that I wish I had the time to have read it quicker. The story life is real, and doesn't have fluff that can sometimes invade chick lit books, but I find that the authors from the UK are much better at writing stories that hold their own. The way that the two characters realize their love for each other is something that I am sure a lot of people have felt, but wouldn't openly admit or bother to work through in order to be happy. The fact that these two aren't married, and are partners with children also speaks to how many couples are committed without a legal document these days. The children are essential to the story, and I love the writing of the daughter, and the relationship both parents have with the children. Great book, read it.
Reviewed by Gabi for Book Sake
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Posted September 13, 2011
"After the Party" by Lisa Jewel
Lisa Jewel catches the very essence of real, every day life with children and a relationship to a "T" in this sequel book to "Ralph's Party". You do not need to have read the first book in order to read this book. I never would have known. Lisa Jewel has written a 'jewel' of a story!
We are introduced to Ralph and Jem in the beginning of this story by finding out they are now together for eleven years, and at this stage in Ralph and Jem's relationship, life has changed so drastically for them that their relationship is drifting apart from each other. Are they, or have they fallen 'out of love'?
They have suffered two miscarriages, and now finally have two young, beautiful children. Scarlett is three, and Blake is four months old, yet Ralph does not feel fulfilled the way Jem does. Although Jem feels very happy and fulfilled and almost complete with her children, she has not been happy with her and Ralph's relationship, as she does not feel Ralph has been pulling his weight around the house with her and the kids.
Jem is back to work part time as a Talent Agent. Ralph could help here. Jem feels like she does everything and Ralph just sits up in his studio painting away, perhaps hiding, as if nothing has changed. She feels disconnected from Ralph. What is his problem? Why doesn't he help her more? Can't Ralph see all she goes through every day?
Jem does feel resentment towards Ralph for not doing more, and leaving it all to her to do, he feels resentment as well. The children get all her attention and he is definitely last when it comes to anything, even when it comes to their non-existent sex life. Blake now lays claim to Jem's breasts, not Ralph. They both bring issues to the table, and it seems Ralph, more so, than Jem.
Ralph decides, out of the blue, to take a vacation away from their home in London, and go to California to visit an old friend of his. Jem is livid but tries not to let Ralph know how much. Who does HE think he is? Leaving her here at home with two young children? If at anytime, why now? Does he feel the need to capture his single life again? Yet Ralph has his mind made up and he goes.
Jem. Jem is left at home, alone, with the two children, all to fend for themselves. Jem befriends a man, Joel, who is a single parent to a little girl the same age as Scarlett. The two girls play together at the local playground, but things start to go a little bit further than the playground. Just how far, and how the rest of this story turns out is left for you to find out.
Lisa Jewel's writing is so engaging that you feel as if you know these characters, or even more, you may possibly relate to these characters in your own life. Most of us in a relationship who eventually have children know what an impact children can have on our own relationships. Children change the dynamics of relationships completely. Some of us need to grow up a little more, while some may need to change the way we look at life and handle things differently now. A relationship alone is not easy and needs tender loving care, let alone add children into the picture whether you think you are ready or not, and things can become even more complicated, as Jewel describes so very well. I have more to glowing things to say but not enough room. 5 Stars for this book!
Posted September 10, 2011
Lisa Jewell's latest book, After the Party picks up about 10 years after Ralph's Party ended. You don't necessarily have to read that one first, but it helps set the stage. Jem and Ralph now have a boy and a girl after several miscarriages and they should be happy, but both of them find the spark is gone and something is not quite right in their relationship. Jem never did get a proper wedding since Ralph never believed in a big production to define their relationship which is a sore point for Jem. The story is told be each character with their own insecurities shining through and coloring each chapter. So one day, Ralph decides he need to go capture his artistic spirit, leaves his family and runs away to Los Angeles to visit Smith, his and Jem's old flatmate. Jem is left in turmoil, questions her very existence and has her own mini mid life crisis. Ralph has a spiritual awakening while Jem finds strength. They both meet a member of the opposite sex that either help or hinder the situation. The main questions is: will they work it out without these outside forces?
I talk to my books when I read. I yell at the characters, I cry with them, I laugh with them. You don't want to be around me when I read since when I like a book, I have noisy conversations with them. I had several yelling sessions while reading After the Party, telling Ralph and Jem to just grow up and behave since they are now parents. Every time the couple was just about to be on the same page, there would be a misunderstanding and causes them both to soar out of control. I kept thinking "this is so real - I know couples who have had these same issues". This is just a wonderfully written story full of emotions that is perfect for this time of year! If you enjoy Madeleine Wickham, Harriet Evans or Hester Browne, you are going to adore this author as well.
Posted August 22, 2011
Because I did not read Ralph' Party first, which is the prequel to this book, I did not know the characters as well as those who did read the first book. While this book can definitely be a stand-alone book, reading the first book may have helped me understand the dynamics of the relationship better. Nonetheless, Lisa Jewelldeveloped the characters very well and gave me an opportunity to read the book through Ralph and Jem's point of view.
Ralph and Jem have been married for 12 years and have two small children, after having miscarriages and fertility issues. While Jem loves being a mom to her children, Ralph is still struggling with having to share his wife with two little children and find a balance between being husband, artist, and father. Ralph and Jem's marriage truly lacks every bit of communication, causing them to both misread each other's intentions and actions. Jem views Ralph not wanting children because he is selfish and Ralph views Jem wanting children as being selfish because she is wanting children before he feels ready to be a father. While both of them have reservations about each other, neither of them attend couple's counseling or some form of therapy. Of course, these are fictional characters and therapy most certainly would have changed the course of this story!
During a trip to California, Ralph meets Rosey, who becomes a close friend after introducing him to "church". This church is not a typical Christian church, rather it is more of a prayer/meditative group. Being scared to tell Jem (who is atheist) about his spiritual quest, he begins to go for early runs to meet up with his prayer group without Jem knowing. It is through his spiritual journey that Ralph decides to embrace fatherhood to its fullest and be the husband he knows he needs to be and Jem desires. However, the emotional disconnect and lack of intimacy in their relationship proves to be much more difficult that just making a personal commitment to himself.
Jem on the other hand reaches out to a single father and in some ways, begins to have a mid-life crisis. It is obvious they are both reacting to their marital problems differently, both wanting the same outcome-to save their marriage, yet never being able to fully communicate that to one another.
While this is not a Christian book, there are elements of spirituality. Lisa Jewell is able to capture this relationship in a way that made me feel connected to the characters and feel sympathetic to them. Why is this such a big deal? Well, these characters aren't always likable, they don't always do the best thing for their relationship, and both seem to be going in circles trying to accomplish the same thing without ever letting the other know.
I enjoyed reading this book and while some of Ralph and Jem's decisions are questionable at times, it made the storyline that much more richer and complex. I do recommend this book to those who like chick-lit and romance novels (without the cheesy sex scenes). I also recommend those who do want to read this book to also read Ralph's Party. While this book can stand on it's own, reading the prequel will give you a better understanding to the characters. And.why not? We all love reading sequels, so this gives you an opportunity to read two books about characters that you most certainly will root for in the end!
Posted August 19, 2011
What a roller coaster ride. This sequel begins many years after Ralph's Party ends. Ralph and Jem are now living together with children - not happily, but so so. The book hops between Ralph's and Jem's points of view, which I adored.
A story that was heart wrenching but honest. Being someone that is in a relationship and has been in one for awhile and although we don't have children, we are currently partners raising a pup. I could understand the rut that one may find themselves in and how people change and with them changing the relationship must change as well.
The one thing I missed from the first book was the many characters that had stories that were interlocking. I wish there was just a little more of the previous tenants on Alamanac Road. The new characters were entertaining, but I missed continuing their stories along with Jem and Ralph's.
A great story that follows the couple that you will fall in love with from Ralph's Party. I will never spoil the ending, but I believe that this book will keep you hooked until the end.
Posted August 16, 2011
Having been born just inside the M25 and spent a lot of my under 21 years living in England in general, I really enjoy books about British 30 somethings. I end up reading a lot of chick-lit because of it, but quite a lot of it is quite good. So I had high hopes when the publisher asked me to review After the Party, that I immediately went out and read "book one" in the series Ralph's Party. Ralph's Party details the lives of the inhabitants of 31 Almanac Road as their lives intertwine. Some relationships founder and break apart and ultimately true love is found and the Jem and Ralph set off on their cosmic romance. (quick review 3.5 out of 5 - mainly because as a first book the writing needed a little tightening, a problem Jewell has solved over her many books)
So here we are eleven years later and how has the fairy tale love for the ages gotten on? Unfortunately it has stagnated a bit and gone off the rails. This is what I love about this book, the deeper look into the romance. At the end of Ralph's Party you feel a great love has been achieved and close it the book very satisfied. Typically you never take the time to ponder just how such a love will endure. I guess I always just assume that it will go on without a hitch. But imagine if Kate and Leo survived the Titanic and you meet up with them 11 years later - "How bout the bloody King of the World take out the trash!" That is what After the Party explores, and for the most part this is virgin territory in a contemporary romance.
The high Jem and Ralph have been riding since they got together has produced a couple of kids and careers, but it has not managed to take them to the next step in their relationship. It has not got them married. Because they have come to face the wall all successfully married people have to climb, they must stop being two separate people who live together and become one; a couple comprised of two halves that are all in. They must become fully committed to each other and leave the aspects of single life behind (both good AND bad). When you can put the needs of the other (your spouse in this case, or more specifically the relationship, the family) above your own you can defeat the world. But it is very important that both partners fully commit to form a bond that will last.
If you are not willing to do this it becomes very hard to withstand the vicissitudes of life as time goes by. Otherwise you are just existing on goodwill, magic, and duct tape and that only holds for so long. Ask any couple who have been married a few years, especially ones who have added kids to the mix if this is true. Because magic can only hold out against a few real fights and if you are in a relationship with any substance you are going to have some fights. The national divorce rate attests to this fact.
Jem and Ralph have hit this wall and their relationship is beginning to slowly crumble from within. After the Party takes an in-depth look at a couple in crisis, makes you really care for them, and navigates that delicate path to a resolution. Well worth the read to anybody who is or hopes to be in a relationship. Plus for all you Ralph's Party fans, all the major characters are revisited and updated, so no loose ends to frustrate you either. Finally a personal sign of what I thought of the writing itself, Lisa Jewell will be put into the rotation and I will devour her backlist over the next few months.
Posted August 13, 2011
"AFTER THE PARTY" BY LISA JEWELL
A couple that's shared a passionate love for so long start to question the life they have chosen once marriage and a family enters the equation.
A wonderful and exciting story about true love and how doubt is always a factor in even the best of relationships. This was a great book, completely beautiful, having the ability to teach valuable life lessons.
-Kitty Bullard / Great Minds Think Aloud Book Club
Posted August 11, 2011
I Also Recommend:
Set in London, Jem Catterick and Ralph McLeary have been together for eleven years. He is a successful painter and she works part time as a talent agent. They have two children, daughter Scarlett, and brand new baby boy Blake. They thought they would be together forever but clearly the party is over. Ralph really shows no interest in Blake, his artwork is faltering. Jem is exhausted caring for two children, getting up several times a night with Blake and trying to get back to work. If all that isn't enough Ralph announces he is going on holiday to visit an old friend in the states. He needs time away to recenter himself and he thinks some time apart would be beneficial. Jem is stunned but rolls with it as she knows their relationship is on a desperate path.
While Ralph is away Jem connects with someone new and so does Ralph. His life also turns in a direction he knows Jem will never understand but it rejuvenates him as he heads home. He returns with hopes of finding a way back together with Jem. Like the old days, the days after the party. But is it too late? Can their relationship be saved?
This book is said to be a sequel to Jewell's Ralph's Party published in 1999 but I had no problem reading it as a stand alone. It is definitely the story of a couple maturing and realizing that being adults with responsibilities is hard work and definitely not all sunshine and rainbows.
The book is very well written and the story flows effortlessly which is good as the book is 450 pages. She offers a keen insight of a modern family existing in today's world of more obligations than time. I really enjoyed the relationship between Jem and her sister Lulu. Lulu has no problem speaking her mind and telling Jem frankly what she needs to hear. The story between Jem and Ralph is an emotional one and this is not a light read, it gets really dark in places.
This was my first Lisa Jewell novel and while it did not leave me as moved as other books I read this week I would recommend it as a good book to escape into for a weekend. If you are a Jewell fan and liked Ralph's party this is a sequel I am sure you will enjoy.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Atria Paperbacks, a Division of Simon & Schuster. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Posted October 23, 2011
No text was provided for this review.