I remember the joy I felt, years back, on discovering Lisa Jewell's first novel, 'Ralph's Party'. At the time, there was a deluge of identik chick lit novels being published in the vein of Bridget Jones and Ralph's P was a breath of fresh air - honest, romantic and intelligent, with a mix of male and female viewpoints, keen observations and some smart psychological insights. Jewell broke the boundaries of the women's fic genre and raised the bar. She remains to this day my favourite women's fic author (I want to avoid using the word chick lit at all costs as it doesn't do justice to the quality of her writing)
The idea of a sequel fascinated me. After all, so many romantic comedies finish with a couple getting together, the rosy idealism of Happy Ever After. I was fascinated to see how Ralph & Jem would be, ten years on. I must admit, then, that I was shocked to discover Ralph and Jem in such a state of misery. Jewell's writing has got darker recently, which I think is a good evolution, but I admit that I got 2/3 of the way into this book and felt a tear welling up in my eye and thought - this is the saddest book I've read in quite a while. Perhaps this was exacerbated by the fact that R's P was such an uplifting book, that perfectly captured the dizzy joy not only of a twentysomething couple, but of being in your twenties, sparkling with promise and hopes and dreams; whilst the sequel really focuses on hopes and dreams being dashed as reality and disappointment sets in. And even while it ends on a positive note, as you sense from the start that it will, it did make me feel glum about marriage, and rather glad that I haven't settled down with kids yet!
Another quality of Jewell's maturing style is her deep psychological insight into character. She captures the minutiae of daily life with such precision and there are many wonderful moments that felt so perfectly spot=on - when Joel reveals another side to his character, or the comic details of Lucas's facebook page. I also loved Jewell's rather daring exploration of Ralph finding a spiritual dimension to his life. Normally in this type of book, anything remotely spiritual is described with irony or ridicule. It was honest, daring and rather refreshing to read about a character finding something beyond themselves, and I liked her exploration of characters puzzling over fate, coincidence and destiny, their very human desire to find meaning and shape to the chaos of life.
My only disappointment was that I had been expecting a blend of storylines - more of Karl and Cheri and Siobhan, because one of the things I loved about R's P was the rich cast of characters and zigzag of stories.
Nevertheless, this is another brilliant, pageturning read that has left me hungry for Jewell's next offering.