It's eleven years since Jem Catterick and Ralph McLeary first got together. They thought it would be for ever, that they'd found their happy ending. As everyone agreed, they were the perfect couple. Then two became four, a flat became a house. Romantic nights out became sleepless nights in. And they soon found that life wasn't quite so simple any more. But through it all Jem and Ralph still loved each other, of course they did. Now the unimaginable has happened. Two people who were so right together are starting to drift apart. And in the chaos of family life, Ralph feels more and more as if he's standing on the sidelines, and Jem that she's losing herself. 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...
I really enjoyed Ralph's Party by Lisa Jewell, to which After the Party is the sequel, so I was beyond excited when I found out that this book was being released and I would be able to see how life turned out for Jem and Ralph.
I don't know whether it was due to this massive excitement, but my overwhelming feeling having finished this book is one of disappointment. It was wonderful delving into the lives of Jem and Ralph again, meeting their beautiful children and seeing how hard it can be to keep a sense of love alive after years of being together. The sentiment behind the book, as presented most succinctly by the quote from Mignon McLaughlin: "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person" is believable and very pertinent to many couples.
However, the mechanics of the book didn't work for me. The flitting back and forth in time felt clumsy - I prefer it by far when Jewell uses a linear structure. I also didn't enjoy the throwing in of several subplots that felt too convoluted. Dealing with Joel, his son and wife; Karl Kasparov; Ralph's new spirituality; Rosey and Smith; Jem trying desperately hard to find herself - it just seemed like too much by far. Jewell works best with a more simplistic story. Karl's tale, especially, was just so much tacked on nonsense.
The characterisation was odd. I ended up not liking Jem very much, which seemed unimaginable to me when embarking on the story. I had little sympathy for her, being as she was so unable to see the best solution to her problem. A solution that didn't involve leading on men, going out drinking and trying to forget she is a mother! Joel was just hideous and I had no idea why Jem was so fascinated by him when she had the lovely Ralph at home. And then Ralph himself! His actions towards the end of the book are incomprehensible to me (and I'm frustrated that I am unable to say anything further for fear of spoilers).
I was pleased with the ending of the book and I do remain glad that I read this book. Jewell's novels will still be a must-buy/read for me, but this was not one of her better works. Of course, anyone who read and enjoyed Ralph's Party will be reading this book as a priority, regardless of how I report back, but I would advise those who haven't yet tried Lisa Jewell to either go back to the beginning with Ralph's Party or pick up Vince and Joy, which is a gloriously joyful book. Disappointing.