I was very excited to be given a copy of Lisa Jewell’s new book – I’d read Ralph’s Party and absolutely adored it so the prospect of a sequel was pretty exciting. By the time I’d read the first chapter, my enthusiasm had definitely begun to wobble a bit. Because one of the great things about chick lit is that it’s a fantasy world – a parallel universe where you can believe that happy ever after does exist, that a girl can meet the man of her dreams. So when you’ve watched two characters get together in a previous book and mentally consigned them to Happy Ever After, it’s somehow a bit disconcerting to find yourself face to face with them again, and discover that they’re not actually living in a fantasy world. They’re, well, human.
And so it is with Ralph and Jem, heroes of Ralph’s Party. When we leave them at the end of the first book they’re in love, the world brightly ahead of them. When we meet them at the start of the second eleven years have passed and they’re harassed, sleep-deprived parents. And instead of happily ever after, they’re struggling to live with each other. They both know that something has to change, but neither knows how to find the way back to what they had. Searching for a temporary escape, Ralph goes to San Francisco to visit his former flatmate, Smith. But the choices both he and Jem make while he’s away, and the people they meet, will alter both their lives and their relationship forever. But can a storybook Happy Ever After really exist in the grey real world?
The interesting thing about After The Party is that actually, Happy Ever After doesn’t seem so important. Because once you’ve got over the slight shock of the gap (temporal and emotional) from the prequel, this is an incredibly sensitively-written novel about how hard family life can be. It’s a welcome reminder that the perfect happy ending isn’t as easily achieved as most novels lead us to believe; relationships wobble and they need work. Lisa Jewell understands that completely and draws the reader into a world of love, sadness, loss and hope. And, to my surprise, I found that a little of the real world does the characters no harm at all. In fact, I liked them all the better for it because their struggles were so believable – something the average reader can relate to.
There were definitely parts of the plot that I thought were over-done (but in the interests of not spoiling a good book I won’t say which bits – I’ll leave that to you to decide) but overall After The Party is a well-written novel that reminds us that life is tough, that it takes strength to get through even the mundane problems of day to day life, and that we shouldn’t feel as if we’ve failed because we sometimes falter.