Nicole Melanson ~
After the Party, Cassie Hamer’s debut novel, is an easy read about difficult topics. You know those days where everything that could go wrong does? Imagine that’s the day you’re throwing your five-year-old daughter a birthday party. Now imagine you survive the party, but instead of getting to collapse in a heap with a glass of wine afterwards, you discover one of the guests has been left behind—deliberately. And indefinitely. Do you try to track down her parents? Do you report the situation to the police? Or do you just step up and mother her as best you can while you work out what to do next? That’s the premise of this book.
Whilst I generally lean more towards literary fiction than commercial, I found After the Party interesting and enjoyable. Hamer has an accessible style, but she doesn’t skimp on emotion and nuance. The humor in this book is also a really strong selling point. The main character, Lisa, is capable and earnest, but she’s also ruffled and fumbling and entirely too relatable for anyone going through a similar life stage with young children, a partner, extended family, and school dynamics to juggle.
One of the things I found particularly compelling about this book is that it’s essentially an exploration of foster care, minus the formalities. As someone who occasionally entertains the idea of becoming a foster parent at some point, I think the whole concept of “improvised” families is intriguing. Indeed, we see Lisa struggle less with the idea of welcoming and loving another child and more with the notion that said child has not been “officially” assigned to her care. This is a book that really wonders what it means to be a parent, and how much elasticity there is in that definition.
Hamer is being pitched as “Liane Moriarty meets Marian Keyes with a touch of Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap”, but I kept thinking of Jodi Picoult. I’m not sure we have an “Australian Picoult” yet, and I think Hamer is a real contender for that role. After the Party spends a lot of time brushing up against the law, and questioning rules and regulations, so I’d be curious to see what happens if Hamer decides to push herself further in that direction for her next book. The ethical interests are already there, and I’d love to see them explored on a deeper level.
All up, After the Party is well paced, funny, and appealing, and should delight anyone looking for fresh women’s fiction this season. It’s been a pleasure watching Hamer go from short story writer to novelist, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.