This reading group guide for After the Party includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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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, 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. Now Ralph, a successful painter, is struggling to come up with new, hopefully groundbreaking, work for his upcoming show. Now 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 as if she’s losing herself, while Ralph, stuck on the sidelines, feels as if 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.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Lisa Jewell tells her story from each of her main characters’ points of view. Did you find yourself relating more to one character than the other? Explain your answer using examples from the story.
2. After the Party
takes place in an up-and-coming London neighborhood, yet the themes and characters are universal. Do you think the English setting gave a different flavor to the book? Can you envision the story in New York City or Chicago? How does setting change the reading experience for you, if at all?
3. This is a novel full of transformations. Ralph, for instance, goes from rejecting organized religion to attending a prayer group. Identify other examples of transformation in the book and discuss.
4. Ralph feels neglected by Jem, as she’s always too busy with the children and household duties. Jem feels ignored by Ralph, as he’s always too busy painting in his studio to help out with the kids or chores. Do you feel that both Jem and Ralph are contributing to the problem by neglecting the other—Ralph being too busy for Jem and Jem being too tired for Ralph—or do you think one is more to blame than the other? Would you say their situation is typical of most modern marriages?
5. What do you believe Ralph expected to find when he went to California? Why do you think Jem so easily agreed to his trip when she was already feeling overwhelmed? Did the time apart give each of them what they expected? Why or why not?
6. On the topic of infidelity, what did you think about Jem inviting Joel over for curry and beer on her last “single” evening before Ralph’s return? Did you feel the same or differently about the kiss between Ralph and Rosey during their night of Christian rock music and drinking? Compare and contrast the two situations as you share your opinion.
7. Jem feels that men categorize her into a group: Ralph’s “you mums” and Joel’s “yummy mummys.” Which do you think upsets her the most, and why? Which would upset you more in her situation? How does this fit in with society’s vision of modern motherhood?
8. Jem and Ralph don’t see eye to eye when Jem finds out she’s pregnant. At first, Ralph tells Jem that it’s her decision and he’ll go with what she wants to do. Then he has a change of heart. Imagine you’re a close friend of the couple. What would you advise?
9. What does Ralph do when he finds the text messages and voice messages from Joel on Jem’s phone? Do you think he handles the situation well? Why or why not? Placed in the same situation, would you have handled it differently?
10. After Ralph disappears to a studio where he paints a collection portraying Jem’s past year, he summarizes their relationship by saying: “We are about us
. Just . . . us
” (p. 441). What do you think he means?ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. The final word in the novel is begins.
Imagine what you think will happen next. After marriage, will Jem and Ralph fall back into their rut of routine and discontent? Or has something changed in each of them now that they’ve tasted life without the other? Imagine your own new beginning for Jem and Ralph and share it with your book club.
2. Jem and Ralph’s love for each other is intensified when surrounded by his artwork. Try attending a local art show or visit a gallery. Does being surrounded by art enhance your mood or open you to love? If you can, visit with someone you love. Does being with this person change your experience of the artwork?
3. Lisa Jewell has written a number of popular books. If you’ve read some of them, discuss how they are alike and different from this one. Take some time to visit and browse the author’s website at www.lisa-jewell.co.uk.