Readers Club of America
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Ralph's Party
Lisa Jewell

 
Discussion Questions

1. Ralph’s Party is brimming with characters, and yet very few of them are superfluous. Discuss Lisa Jewell’s development, over the course of the book, of Jem, Ralph, Smith, Karl, Siobhan, and Cheri: What makes them real, lively, and interesting? With which characters are we more intimate, and why? How well does Jewell handle her large cast, their varying personalities, and their daily interactions?

2. There are two major love triangles in this book—the Jem/Smith/Ralph triangle and the Siobhan/Karl/Cheri triangle. Discuss the complexity of these relationships, and how they work as alternating plots within the novel.

3. The prologue introduces the book’s central characters, Smith, Ralph, and Jem, and it introduces also the central theme of fate and destiny. How much does fate and destiny play a part in the lives of all the characters within the book?

4. Karl’s affair with Cheri is revealed from Karl’s point of view, in a very blasé, matter-of-fact way. Discuss Karl’s apparent lack of guilt until after the affair is revealed, and the way in which he separates his lust for Cheri and his love for Siobhan. Consider his motivations for his actions—are they complex and contradictory, or is he operating out of basic, rudimentary feelings of lust and fear? Are there any redeeming qualities in Karl’s character?

5. As loathsome as Karl’s infidelity may be, part of the disintegration of his relationship with Siobhan has to do with Siobhan’s poor self-image and feelings of inadequacy. Discuss how Siobhan’s concept of her body interferes with her ability to be intimate with Karl. How does it compare with Cheri’s self-image, and that of Jem? How much does self-image play a part in each of these characters’ interactions with other people?

6. Smith and Ralph are polar opposites by personality and trade, yet end up being best friends and flatmates for years. Discuss the dynamic of their friendship and its dissolution by the end of the novel. Can the culmination of their relationship be attributed to Jem alone, or was it inevitable?

7. Before Jem and Ralph begin to form their own friendship, Ralph violates Jem’s privacy and reads her diaries. Consider the ramifications of this act: how does it affect Ralph’s view of Jem? Would he have liked Jem without reading her diaries? What kind of an upperhand does it truly give Ralph in his quest to win Jem away from Smith? Is this act excusable or pardonable in any way?

8. When Jem teaches Ralph to cook a curry dinner in their basement flat, their dynamic changes drastically. Discuss Jem and Ralph’s burgeoning attraction to one another, from this event to the “mustard on the feet” incident, to the wild night of pot smoking and drinking in London.

9. Meanwhile, the weekend getaway in Scotland marks a major turning point in Siobhan and Karl’s relationship. Discuss Siobhan’s adulterous mood during the trip, and her seduction of Karl’s coworker, Rick—what kind of an impact does this have upon her self-image, and Karl’s perception of her? After the trip, their love for one another appears fortified and strengthened, perhaps even better than ever. Consider the possibility of Siobhan not finding the tape that revealed Karl’s affair: would life with Karl have continued to be wonderful? Would they have stayed together forever? Would Siobhan have been happy with herself from this point onward?

10. Compare and contrast Siobhan’s relationship with Rick to her relationship with Karl. What makes Rick the better lover (aside from the obvious question of fidelity)? Is it the change in partner that makes Siobhan’s chance for happiness greater, or is it a change deep within her? In what ways is she the maker of her own fate and destiny? Does her relationship with Rick seem like it will last? Is this important and essential to her happiness anymore? How much has she grown as a person over the course of the novel?

11. Cheri is the character we love to hate. She’s beautiful, haughty, self-obsessed, ruthless and mean—and also essential to the story. Discuss Cheri as a plot catalyst early in the novel and provider of comic relief at the conclusion of the novel. Is she as well developed as the rest of the characters? What purpose does her character development, or lack of it, serve?

12. When Ralph finally admits to Jem that he’s in love with her, she does not take it well. She’s hung up on the idea that she’s destined to be with Smith, the man from her dreams. How does her rejection of Ralph act as a catalyst for change in their relationship? What changes does she go through while she and Ralph are not speaking? What does this rejection spark in Ralph, who begins to paint again? Is her rejection of Ralph an instance of fate playing a hand, or does Jem actually have control of her own destiny here?

13. Ralph’s party serves not only as the culminating scene of the book, but the proverbial closed door on several of the character’s relationships. Discuss the “end” of Jem and Smith, Smith and Cheri, Karl and Siobhan, and Ralph and Smith. Also, consider the futures open to Siobhan and Rick and Jem and Ralph as couples, and Cheri, Smith and Karl as individuals. Where do you see them “destined” to end up?