Effie Talbot hasn’t been invited to the last hurrah at her beloved family home, Greenoaks. At least she doesn’t consider the passive-aggressive ‘anti-invitation’ she received from her dad’s shiny new girlfriend a genuine invite, and she has absolutely no intention of attending a party where she’s not welcome, even if it means missing out on the opportunity to say farewell to the place she grew up before it’s sold. That is until she remembers her precious Russian dolls, safely tucked up a chimney, and she knows she can’t leave them behind. And so begins Effie’s Mission Impossible style operation to sneak in and sneak out without anyone ever knowing she was there.
That might be the plan but with a bouncer at the door, a house full of guests, a fractured family trying to pretend everything’s normal, the return of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart and a set of Russian dolls gone walkabout, Effie’s mission doesn’t end up being the quick in-and-out she anticipated. As she crouches behind shrubs, hides under tables, clambers through dusty attics and hungrily eyes up the party food, Effie discovers that everyone – from her much-loved siblings and her complicated ex, to her estranged dad and his detestable girlfriend – is hiding something from the people around them.
With her latest standalone novel, Sophie Kinsella perfectly captures a family falling apart. It’s inevitable that tensions will rise when the dynamics of a family unit begin to change as marriages break down, new partners are brought into the fold and not everyone gets on. But Effie doesn’t handle these changes well. In fact, she doesn’t handle them at all. For Effie, it all begins and ends with the shock divorce of her parents, which acts as the catalyst for the unravelling of the Talbots’ once close bond. But Effie is very much a character wearing rose tinted glasses. She believed she had the perfect family and she’s not willing to consider that some relationships end for a reason and part of growing up is accepting that people – whether it’s family, lovers or friends – change. Sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better, but it’s all part of life.
Effie’s own stubbornness is her biggest flaw, constantly getting in her way and distancing her from the people who love her most. The idea of her crashing a party she was invited-not-invited-to and sneaking around the house undetected is ludicrous (and more than a little far-fetched) but it’s also wonderfully entertaining and funny too. Effie notices more about her family by hiding and eavesdropping than she ever would have if she’d been a welcome guest. It gives her a different perspective – one that makes her realise that appearances can be deceptive. Her sister, Bean, might put on a brave face but she cries when she thinks nobody is watching. Her brother, Gus, might say everything’s fine but his panicked private phone calls suggest otherwise. Her ex, Joe, now a reluctant celebrity, might seem to have it all put together but – like Effie – he hasn’t quite left the past behind. If only these characters could just talk to each other…
Sophie Kinsella’s books are always full of warmth, wit and charming characters, and The Party Crasher is no exception. It’s a heart-warming and hilarious story about family, love, life and learning that whilst change can be painful, it can be freeing too. It’s a shame that it takes Effie an evening of hiding and skulking around her childhood home to fully realise it but it sure makes for a delightfully uplifting and escapist story.
The Party Crasher was published by Bantam Press on 14 October 2021