Who writes an Excel spreadsheet for a children’s birthday party with tasks already completed in the green column and jobs outstanding in the red one? Lisa Wheeldon, the central character in the debut novel After The Party, that’s who.
Lisa, a former accountant who once handled multi-million-dollar accounts, is kidding herself of course. For starters, a spreadsheet doesn’t allow for human error – like Lisa sleeping in on the day of the party and panicking once she realises she’s running late with everything. Nor does it make the task of decorating a princess castle birthday cake any easier – or alter the rookie mistake of inviting all 32 children in her daughter’s kindergarten class.
Cassie Hamer’s deft light touch and sassy voice light up the early pages, but it’s like the icing on top of the cake, with more interesting, complex (and yummier) layers revealed as the story develops from the chaotic party into a clever tale of family, marriage and motherhood, with an element of mystery thrown in.
The first about turn in events comes when a child is found alone in the garden long after the other party guests have gone. Her name is Ellie and she has a note from her un-named mother, asking Lisa not only to take care of her for a short time, but also begging her not to turn her child into the authorities.
A shocked Lisa and her husband Scott feel torn. Taking on someone else’s child, even temporarily, is a huge responsibility. And there are so many questions: why has Ella’s mother done this? How could she? Is there any danger involved, here? On the other hand, Lisa and Jamie, her younger sister, whose parents died young, know firsthand the brutal truths of what going into foster care can mean.
The life and times of honest, likeable Jamie who blurts out whatever’s on her mind, adds another delicious layer to After The Party. At 35, despite being a brilliantly successful career woman, she’s not chosen well when it comes to the man in her life, not the first woman in history to do so and not the only one in this story who makes this mistake and has to face the consequences.
There’s a posh school, yummy mummies including Mrs Glamazon (mother of Savannah-Rose), but at the heart of this clever, touching novel lies some themes guaranteed to get you thinking and to light up book clubs: what is the right thing to do regarding Ellie, especially when right and wrong are not so clear-cut? Do we as a community have a duty of care to other children as well as our own? How quick are we to judge others, especially mothers, without knowing anything about their circumstances?
Big-hearted Lisa decides on a compromise to look after the dear little girl temporarily and in the meanwhile, to try to find her mysterious mother who has clearly been a great care-giver to Ellie until now. Meanwhile, the story arc moves to the missing mother and we’re fed little bite sized pieces of her back story.
After The Party has been described as Liane Moriarty meets Marion Keyes with a touch of The Slap. On her website, the author salutes Moriarty’s Big Little Lies for illustrating that ‘the ordinary could also be sublime’ and that her ‘small domestic life and its preoccupation with parenting’ was worth exploring. ‘It was simply a matter of trying to see it with fresh eyes,’ Hamer concludes.
Cassie Hamer certainly done that and more, with a great deal of panache.
About The Author
Cassie Hamer has a professional background in journalism and PR, but now much prefers the world of fiction over fact. In 2015, she completed a Masters in Creative Writing, and has since achieved success in numerous short story competitions. After the Party is her first novel.
Cassie lives in Sydney with her terrific husband and three, mostly-terrific daughters, who still believe piñatas are a fun and effective method of lolly-distribution. She is working on her second novel, but always has time to connect with other passionate readers via her website – CassieHamer.com – or through social media.