Friday, 14 May 2010

Ralph's Party by Lisa Jewell

Ralph and Smith are best friends, living at 31 Almanac Road - they spend most of their time in front of the TV, drinking and smoking spliffs. Smith holds a torch for Cheri, a blonde femme fatale who lives in the top floor flat, and has admired her from afar for five years. Ralph is in a tortuous relationship with Claudia, little realising that his life is about to change utterly. Because Jem (Jemima) moves in as the new flatmate, and Ralph falls helplessly in love with her. Linked and intertwined with this storyline is the tale of Karl and Siobhan, a couple who have been together for years and find their relationship stagnating.

Ralph's Party was Lisa Jewell's debut novel and my first comment is that it really doesn't seem so. The voice is assured, the plot is quirky (although maybe a little forced in places), and the dialogue is extremely realistic.

What really makes this book is the characterisation. Jem and Ralph are two characters that you adore, and you are rooting for them right from the start. They are very loveable, with foibles, and mood swings, and the inability to see what the reader is able to (thanks to Jewell writing beautifully from both points of view).

I also enjoyed the jump in between the two storylines - and, in the mark of a good book, I was equally pleased to follow both sets of people. Karl and Siobhan showed the other side of relationships - when a couple has been together for many years, whereas Jem and Ralph gave us the sparkle and mutual attraction of a new flirtation. The comparison was handled beautifully.

Jewell handles ideas such as body image, unrequited love and life focus with equal charm and warmth - showing us the internal thoughts of each of the characters.

In fact, my biggest issue is Smith. At first, we are encouraged to like him, since he is best mates with Ralph and comes across as quite a nice chap. However, Jewell subsequently turns this first image on its head, to the point where I despised Smith and desperately wanted him to receive his comeuppance (which was crude when it came, and went a little too far). It could be that Jewell was trying to show that first images are not always correct (in which case, she did an admirable job!), but maybe I am giving too much credit.

This is a minor part of what turned out to be an excellent read for me. Although light and fluffy in places, the humour and observations were sharp, witty and very believable. This is an entertaining novel, perfect to read as escapist page-turning fiction.

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