I just finished reading this book yesterday and thought I should review it now whilst it;s still fresh in my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it has left a lasting impression upon me. It is written in such a careful, delicate way that it draws you in and makes you want to read more to find out what happens.
I first stumbled across Lisa Jewell when a friend of mine lent me her book The Truth About Melody Browne. I really loved the book and so recently decided to look up some more of her work to see what else she had written. After having really enjoyed the first book I was worried that this wouldn't live up to my expectations but I am pleased to say that it did.
The story tells of Ralph and Jem. They met eleven years ago, fell in love, lived together, had a family together and been through various life events. When we first meet the pair Ralph has vanished. He hasn't picked his children up and he appears to have just disappeared into thin air. Lisa Jewell then tells the story of their relationship and all of the events over the last eleven years which lead up to Ralph going away.
After the birth of their second child, Ralph suddenly announces one day that he is going to go to America to meet up with an old friend. Jem is stunned and infuriated. Why should he just be able to have a week away from the sleepless nights, the difficult disciplining of a three year old? Why should he think it okay to just walk out and leave her to deal with it all? What would he say if she suddenly announced that? But Jem lets him go and keeps her resentment to herself. Whilst Ralph is away things happen to both him and Jem.
Ralph finds a strange peace with his friend's girlfriend Rosey who teaches him things about himself he wasn't aware of. He wants to return home to Jem to be a better person, to try harder and to make more of an effort to be a better father and partner. Jem, however, realises that she quite enjoys playing a single mother for the week, she meets a new friend, a single father who makes her question her life and wonder if there is something more for her out there.
Upon Ralph's return he is all confident about their relationship and acts in the way he believes he should but Jem just finds it bizarre and cannot understand it especially as she has been questioning her life. Jewell takes us on a journey, she goes through the emotions they are both feeling, talks about the events that occur to the couple as they both struggle to save their relationship and wonder where it all went wrong. When did the carefree, in love couple go? At what point did things change? Was it when they had children? Was it when Ralph went away? Will they be able to save themselves?
The characters are fantastically formed. You get to know them so well that you feel as though they are real life friends.
Jem I could relate to very well. She is trying her best to be a good mother and also start working too despite her baby still being very young. Jewell tells of her struggles with patience as she tries to please everyone and the way she describes her is so very fitting that I am sure many mothers with young children can relate to her... from the middle of the night breastfeeding to trying to persuade her daughter to clear up her cereal bowl which she has thrown on the floor in a tantrum. As Jem begins to question her life I too began to question it and wonder what would be best for her. I felt as though I was really seeing things through her eyes, it was amazing how well she was created.
Ralph came across as a struggling character, one who really wanted to do better and was struggling coming to terms with situations. He did seem quite like a pathetic man at first, how he ducked out of responsibilities but then he began to grow on me as I saw how much he tried to make things better and how he tried to make sense of it all. It was great how I felt like I could relate to both of the main characters.
The other characters that were in the book were well formed too.
This novel is not packed with action but it is packed with emotion and information. I felt as though I had gone on a journey with this book, that as well as going on the journey with Jem and Ralph I also experienced a bit of a change in myself. It did make me think about my own relationship, how having children has also changed myself and my husband and whether that is a good or bad thing or whether it doesn't even matter at all. I could relate so well to their situation that it was compelling.
I think it is a beautiful skill for an author to have to create characters that you can relate to and this certainly is the case. I really did feel as though I knew them inside and out by the end and was slightly moved by it all.
There were some points in this book that made me smile with knowing, other parts made me laugh, others made me feel frustrated, sad, concerned... it was a rollercoaster book which reflects the lives of the characters and the fact that these emotions came out with me and not just the characters really make me think that this book is cleverly written.
There are lots of twists and turns in this book and it is very believable. It is the kind of book you read and you think that could be me. That could be a friend I know. It wasn't trying to be something it wasn't by having a dramatic story line or a huge amount of drama, instead it was written in a believable way in a pace which was extremely well fitting for the story.
I never second guessed what was going to happen. There were times when I thought I knew what was about to happen but then it never did and so it was really intriguing. I wondered how it would end and genuinely didn't know what the outcome would be, I stayed up late reading on as I wanted to know what happened and now I have finished it I feel a little sad that it's over!
I really enjoyed this book. If you like something with well formed characters and lots of emotion then you will love this.
Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and I always love reading new books from her. I was particularly looking forward to reading After the Party as I realised that she was picking up the lives of characters that she created in her first book - Ralph's Party - back in 1999. I had really loved this book and it was great that she was picking up on the story eleven years later even though I have to admit to being a bit hazy about the original storyline as I read Ralph's Party quite a while ago. It didn't matter though. And it won't really matter if you have not read the first book either. Although events from before are alluded to, it does stand as a story in its own right, and any necessary references to the past are explained.
In the first book, Ralph and Jem were in their twenties, carefree and ending up crazy for each other. Life was fun and they had it all to look forward to. Eleven years on they now have two children, a mortgage and not much time for each other. Jem's time and energy is all taken up looking after their small baby and three year old daughter and Ralph can't help but feel a little marginalised. It doesn't help that he never really wanted a second child and is having difficulty bonding with his small son. Their relationship is at crisis point and they both have to decide whether it is worth saving. That's the basis of the novel as it covers one very traumatic year in both their lives. The question is whether they will still be together by the end of it?
I don't want to say anymore about the story but it was totally absorbing. Lisa Jewell really expresses what it is like having had children and trying to hold on to a relationship and I'm sure that most mums would identify with Jem to a lesser or greater extent. Many dads would likely identify with Ralph too, who really is a lost soul, knowing what he wants but not knowing how to keep it. The story is spot on in the way that it depicts a crumbling relationship that doesn't want to fail. It is most poignant to read about the way they feel about each other and themselves because it really rings true.
I always have huge expectations of Lisa Jewell's books so I was slightly disappointed when I was not hooked from the very start. However, it did not take long for me to become totally caught up in the lives of Jem and Ralph, and from that point on I did not want to put it down. The main characters seemed so real that I really did start to care what happened to them both and their fragile relationship. They are both extremely likeable which is why, as a reader, I could see things from both their points of view, and therefore I sided with neither.
I really do recommend this book as I do all the Lisa Jewell novels I have read. However, in order to get the most out of the story, it is probably worth reading Ralph's Party first even though it is not strictly necessary. It's a great read though and is currently available on Amazon for £6.71 which is for a larger sized paperback (September 2010).
When I found out that Lisa Jewell had written a sequel to 'Ralph's Party' I immediately ordered myself a copy, and when it arrived I dived straight in. I remember really enjoying Ralph's Party all those years ago (11 I think?!) and I also remember it being a favourite read amongst my friends, and we all became big Lisa Jewell fans.
However, because it was so long ago I could not actually remember much about the original story, but when I started reading 'After The Party' I realised this didn't matter because it is actually set 11 years later, so while I have been getting older, so have Ralph & Jem (the main characters). They have changed and it is a completely separate story about their current lives. It stands alone as a novel, not just a sequel. What does help is that Lisa delves into the past every now and then, so for someone who has read Ralph's Party, it's a memory jogger, but for someone who hasn't, it just plumps out the current storyline.
To be honest the book did not thrill me completely. I enjoyed reading it, and the further I got into the book, the more I wanted it to finish and see if they did get that happy ending. But I found that it was unremarkable and if it wasn't Lisa Jewell, I probably wouldn't have wanted to read it in the first place.
The story revolves around Ralph McLeary and Jem Catterick who first got together 11 years ago; they were seen as the perfect couple and so much in love. But as they grew, they moved from their flat to a house, started a family, first having a girl, then a boy. Anyone knows that once you have a family, priorities change, and this is exactly the case with Ralph & Jem.
This book starts when Jem and Ralph live in a nice house, have a 3 year old girl, Scarlett and a young baby boy, Blake. No, wait a minute, scrap that, the book actually starts 1 year on from that point...where Jem and Ralph are separated, with Jem living at her sister's house, and Ralph renting a small flat, and that's when the book backtracks to "One Year Earlier". So then you live through a year of their troubled lives to find out why they ended up at this point - separated and unhappy.
Jem, once a career girl, has become obsessed and bogged down with family life and child care, feeling that she is doing everything in the home and for their kids, while Ralph feels increasingly sidelined with no real purpose in this new family of four. He finds himself more and more hiding upstairs in his studio, even though he doesn't seem to be producing any artwork of any worth, avoiding being a Dad to his kids, and being no sort of help to Jem.
Ralph didn't even really want kids, especially not two of them, so he feels like they belong to Jem, and he feels it's up to her to look after them and cater for their every need.
Jem starts to resent Ralph for not having changed his life in any way since they have had kids, but doesn't ever tell him this, she just bottles it up inside and becomes more involved in fussing over her children and brooding about her useless partner, and perhaps seeking sympathy elsewhere.
They seem to be existing together in the house, but not really *together*, not thinking together or being the way they were before children. It was at this point that I thought this could be a novel about any young family I know, it is so typical of what happens when couples have kids. It is exactly the same as my life at the moment, once you have children; it is them that become your first priority in your life, not your partner. So it was then that I thought that this book might be quite forgettable, unless something remarkable happens to either Ralph or Jem.
Anyway...They both realise something has to change in order for them to stay together, even though they still love each other, they cannot carry on like this. Ralph decides to take a trip to America to visit his old friend Smith (a character from Ralph's Party), to find himself. Here he does a certain amount of soul searching, meets a girl, Rosey, who introduces him to religion, and he does actually return to England and to Jem, a changed man.
So things seem to be better after the America trip, Ralph bonds with his children, is helping out more and being more understanding to the needs of a Mother of two, and life seemed peachy. But while Ralph was away, Jem had done her own bit of soul searching and managed to pick herself up a stalker in the form of single Dad Joel, who is also an ex-drug addict and a bit unpredictable, and he does pop up every now and then throughout the book, usually at awkward moments.
Basically the rest of the story revolves around these characters and Ralph and Jem's slowly dying relationship. Bad things happen to them (I won't go into detail), they don't seem to communicate with each other at all, but still manage to arrange a wedding (will they, won't they style). Jem turns to drink and stops eating, whereas Ralph has found peace in a local prayer group, is exercising more, painting more, and really seems to discover himself.
It seems that Ralph is on the up, whereas Jem is on the downturn. Yet neither of them feel the need to talk to each other about it, they just keep on bottling things up, despite frequent opportunities to discuss shortcomings in their relationship, lack of trust and just general uneasiness that seem to be developing between them. I found this really frustrating to read, because for a couple who were so much in love to not be able to talk about things with each other, or discuss how they were feeling just seems like a little bit of nonsense.
I found I really liked Ralph's character as I progressed through the book; he changed from a selfish, boring man who didn't want any family responsibilities, to a man at peace with himself and his family. However, I found Jem turned into quite an irritating and selfish character. She seemed to turn to drink at every opportunity, wanted to attract attention from other men, didn't have any sympathy for Ralph with his 'enlightenment', and was generally telling white lies to Ralph most of the time, which as you can imagine eventually came back to bite her on the bum.
The other people in the book had very minimal involvement, and I felt that Joel (single Dad stalker type) was not developed or explained enough in the book. You didn't find out enough about his past or why he was single, you got the basics but it wasn't taken any further, and then he kind of just disappeared. He had a young daughter, but then a son appeared a bit later on in his mid twenties who seemed to have been thrown in there just to give Jem a bit of eye candy, and be the target of some of her affections.
Obviously I've only told half the story here, but if I mentioned anything else then you just may not actually want to read the book because you will know what happens. To be honest, it was all a little bit predictable, and I was actually pleased with the way it ended, but once I had finished the book it didn't leave me with any sort of feeling. It was just one of those books that you read, and then forget.
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading it, and once I was more than half way through I found myself wanting to read on to find out what happened to 'love's young dream', but I just felt that the way this couple was tearing itself apart was just a little bit depressing. It was also quite mortifying at certain points because of the way they were both acting and at one point I had no respect for either Ralph or Jem. To be honest, they deserve each other.
So read it and see how to turn a perfectly good relationship into a perfectly bad one... Do they find each other again? Do they get married? Do they stay separated? If you want to know what happens, you will just have to read it yourself.
I am still going to give it 4 stars because I wasn't bored at any point through the book, but it loses a star because of the typical subject matter, and because of the way Jem so easily self destructed. I did not like that.
Currently on Amazon for £5.99 (May 2010)
It's been eleven years since Ralph McLeary and Jem Catterick first got together and everyone, including themselves, thought their relationship would last forever. Life hasn't turned out that way though and as a flat has turned into a house and their family has expanded to four, it seems that Ralph and Jem are drifting apart. As Ralph tries to get over his feelings of helplessness and Jem tries to remember who she was before the children came along, they both try to figure out how to recapture their love for each other. Is it too late for Ralph and Jem or is still possible for them to have their happy ever after everyone expected of them?
I am a huge fan of Lisa Jewell and have loved most of her novels that I've read. Ralph's Party was amongst those and I really enjoyed it. I've also read ThirtyNothing and One Hit Wonder, before getting a hold of Lisa's latest The Truth About Melody Browne late last year. It seems that her writing has evolved so much since Ralph's Party and The Truth About Melody Browne seemed so more mature than her earlier novels so when I heard Lisa was writing a sequel to Ralph's Party - her debut! - I was thrilled because I'd loved Ralph and Jem first time around. After The Party appeared for pre-order on Bookdepository a few months ago and I placed my order for it. As soon as I saw it had been dispatched I eagerly awaited it, not wanting to start anything else for fear of it coming whilst I was half way through another book! It finally arrived and I eagerly started it.
It's fair to say that After The Party is totally different to it's prequel Ralph's Party. It has a very different feel to it - as I mentioned, Lisa's writing has evolved - and whereas Ralph's Party featured six main characters (Ralph, Smith, Siobhan, Karl, Jem and Cheri), After The Party was mainly about Jem and Ralph. The book begins with a prologue, set in the present year, before being split into multiple parts set mainly in the year that causes Jem and Ralph to think about taking a break from each other until we ourselves come up to the breaking point in Jem and Ralph's relationship. It wasn't how I expected it to be but I was happily pleased with how it was all laid out.
After The Party isn't exactly the happiest read you'll ever encounter because for the majority of the book we see Jem and Ralph's relationship disintegrate and, believe me, it isn't particularly pretty. There's no definitive starting point that marks the potential beginning of the end for Jem and Ralph, it just seems to be the way life has gone for them. They have two children - the ever lovely Scarlett and Blake - and the change in dynamics that came with having children weren't what Jem or Ralph expected. Up until Jem and Ralph had kids, they were solely focused on each other (as you'd expect) and after having kids, their focuses changed and Ralph ended up feeling left out whereas Jem felt as if she was losing her real self - the carefree and younger version of herself.
Ralph decides to take a holiday to California to see his best mate Smith and Jem begrudgingly lets him go. Out in California, Ralph seems to find himself, with a little help from Smith's girlfriend Rosey, and appears to have found a new lease of life. Meanwhile Jem is stuck at home alone and finding that, actually, she's kind of enjoying it. It's helped that she appears to have a new friend in single dad Joel - but is that all there is to it? Ralph comes back from California determined to help Jem out more with the kids but Jem is pre-occupied with thoughts of Joel and it appears that Jem and Ralph, instead of becoming closer, are moving further and further apart.
Because I didn't read Ralph's Party before reading After The Party, I can't particularly say if Jem and Ralph are the same in the sequel as they were in the prequel. It's been such a long time that I simply can't remember their character traits. Both Ralph and Jem have obviously grown up though in the years since we left Ralph's Party. I admit that I really liked both Ralph and Jem. Yes, they were a tad annoying at times - Ralph running off to California, for one, and Jem getting a bit gooey over Joel another - but it's obvious to see that they both still love each other, it's just that they don't talk about anything. Ever. It seems that, for the most point, that a good banging together of heads may have sorted a lot out. (It wouldn't have been as good a book, admittedly.) Jem and Ralph are the only recurring characters in the book - the rest seem to flit in and out at will: Lulu, Jem's sister, Joel, the single dad Jem befriends, Smith and Rosey, Ralph's best friend and Smith's girlfriend, a few of the characters from Ralph's Party appear but not in any real way and only fleetingly.
After The Party is an incredibly emotional read because it's clear that Ralph and Jem belong together no matter what so to see their relationship self-destruct is horrible to read. I wanted to shake them both and tell them to stop being so silly. I rarely get so involved with characters but with Jem and Ralph I just couldn't get enough. It helps that Lisa Jewell gives us both Ralph and Jem's point of view, making for a very fair view of their relationship. Lisa Jewell really is a fantastic writer because, to be blunt, After The Party isn't your usual boy-meets-girl-they-fall-in-love affair, After The Party is about what it's like after being together for a huge amount of time and all the troubles a modern couple face these days. It was a very turbulent year in the life of Jem and Ralph and I really didn't know how it would end.
I really loved reading After The Party. At 450 pages, it's a fantastic book to sink your teeth into and it never gets dull, each page was not exactly a pleasure to read but it sure was addicting. My only complaint if the lack of Siobhan. I loved her in Ralph's Party and she was only mentioned once, fleetingly and I thought that was rather disappointing but I could understand why, Ralph and Jem were the focus here, not the other (former) residents of 31 Almanac Road. After The Party really was a great read and I hugely recommend it. It's not even really necessary to read Ralph's Party beforehand as everything is explained very well. Hugely recommended.
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.
~ Other Information ~
After The Party by Lisa Jewell
Published vy Century April 2010