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Ralph's Party
Lisa Jewell


Inside the thin Edwardian house on Almanac Road churns the vibrant, messy lives of six young Londoners: Smith, Ralph, Cheri, Siobhan, Karl, and the newest occupant, Jem. Jem’s the new flatmate of Smith and Ralph; she quickly turns into the new bedmate of Smith, only to develop a slight crush on Ralph as they gradually become good friends. Siobhan and Karl live in the flat above them: school sweethearts who’ve passed the newlywed phase and settled into old married life, without ever being married. Cheri lives on the top floor, an angelic-looking blonde who’s vain and cruel and pompous: absolutely anything but saintly.

Jem’s a down-to-earth girl, but her head’s been addled by a recurring dream she’s had since she was a teen: a man sitting on a couch in a basement flat, smoking a cigarette—a man she feels, she knows, is her destiny. When she arrives at the house on Almanac Road for her interview as the “potential third flatmate,” she’s certain that one of these men will be The One. So she moves in. Smith, her new roommate, also believes in The One, only his One happens to be Cheri, the girl living upstairs who, unfortunately, doesn’t even know his name. Smith has been in love with Cheri for five years, and he’s certain that they’ll be together eventually. In the meantime, he’s happy to share his home, and then his bed, with Jem, who thinks she’s found what’s “meant-to-be” in the arms of Smith. Ralph merely resents being peripheral, and having his television programs interrupted, until Jem cooks him dinner—or rather, teaches him to cook dinner—and Ralph learns that he and his new roommate share common interests, and more than a little sexual chemistry. Before long, Ralph’s in love with Jem, Jem’s in love with Smith (but developing an infatuation with Ralph), and Smith’s growing bored and wondering when he’ll have a chance with Cheri.

Meanwhile, Cheri’s just told Karl that their adulterous affair is over. Karl, who’s barely admitted to himself that he was ever unfaithful to his girlfriend Siobhan, bounces back from the sordid ordeal eager to settle into domestic bliss. Siobhan, however, hasn’t noticed Karl’s wandering eye so much as she’s noticed a change in herself. A romantic weekend trip to Scotland helps Siobhan come to terms with her own needs and desires, but a little souvenir from the trip ultimately reveals more than Karl would have wished her to know.

Cheri continues taking aerobics classes to hone her perfectly chiseled body and drinks things like white wine spritzers. She’s a cunning seductress...and she’s bored.

Some city dwellers go their entire lives without even speaking to their neighbors, but in a few short weeks, these housemates become inextricably intertwined in one another’s lives, sometimes without even knowing it. At the book’s culmination, Ralph hosts a gala art opening where betrayals are revealed, noses and hearts are broken, real love triumphs over tawdry obsession, and coincidence begins to look a lot more like fate.


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