The Party Crasher by Sophie Kinsella
When Effie returns to the family home for Christmas, her warm, happy family world is shattered by the news that her father and beloved stepmother are to separate. Effie is shocked and stunned.
Moving on a year and a half, her distress is compounded by the arrival of a love interest in her dad’s life, a sexy exercise wear sales executive he met in a bar. Things get even worse when she receives the news that the beloved and quirky family home in the country is to be sold.
Effie can barely contain her distaste for Krista, who seems to have detached her amiable father from his three grown up children, causing her a maelstrom of anger, grief and animosity.
She remains attached to Mimi, the stepmother who has raised her from a baby and created the familiar and warm home Effie has grown up in. She refuses to attend a family weekend and final party to farewell the family manor before Dad and Krista depart to set up a restaurant in Portugal. However, she heads to the country estate that same weekend, using the party as a cover, to search the house for a set of Russian dolls from her childhood. While searching for the dolls, Effie must stay out of sight. Of course, this leads to eavesdropping, hearing and seeing things that she would not have otherwise known.
The laughs are there, the comic requiring a suspension of disbelief, as Effie slinks in past the doorman, silently observes Krista whipping off her too-tight Spanx and hiding the body-shaping underwear in a bowl, peeps in on her father and brother, embarrassingly, in intimate interactions with their partners, finds herself driving down a motorway with two violins balanced on the roof of the car and making a crashing entrance from a balcony into the Sunday brunch which leads to a final and climactic confrontation. Along the way, Effie encounters, and spies on, a cast of quirky though predictable characters – the dependable but estranged childhood sweetheart Joe, the aristocratic but not very bright ex-boyfriend Humph, Krista’s superficial and affected sister Lacey as well as her beloved sister Bean and brother Gus, both with their own relationship problems and her befuddled father caught up in the middle of it all.
Comedy means that all ends well and the events of the novel result in proposals for happy couples, breakups for unhappy couples, a baby and a fair bit of chastened self-realisation for some of the characters. However many of the scenes cry out with sheer implausibility and the happy outcomes are more a matter of luck than good management.
Naive and surprisingly immature for a 26 year old, Effie brings to mind a kind of Bridget Jones character. Listening to conversations from underneath the buffet table, peeking out from behind curtains and slipping behind doors, Effie is hapless but well-meaning, driven by good but usually misguided and misinformed intentions. The Russian dolls serve as a useful motif for the hidden secrets in families and through finding out such secrets, Effie does grow up and come to understanding of others and herself.
The humour, misunderstanding and confusion playing out to a happy ending in this romantic comedy is a pleasant relief from the trials and pressures of everyday life. And like many a party, The Party Crasher is diverting at the time but leaves no strong impression afterwards.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon