Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Emma's Review: The Christmas Party by Karen Swan

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

When Declan Lorne, the last remaining knight in Ireland, dies suddenly, an ancient title passes with him. But his estate on Ireland’s rugged south-west coast is left to his three daughters. The two eldest, Ottie and Pip, inherit in line with expectations, but to everyone’s surprise – and dismay – it is the errant baby of the family, Willow, who gets the castle.

Why her? Something unknown – something terrible - made her turn her back on her family three years earlier, escaping to Dublin and vowing never to return. So when Willow quickly announces she is selling up, her revenge seems sweet and the once-close sisters are pushed to breaking point: in desperation, Pip risks everything to secure her own future, and Ottie makes a decision that will ruin lives. It’s each woman for herself.

Before moving in, Connor Shaye, the prospective new owner, negotiates throwing a lavish party at the castle just days before Christmas – his hello, their goodbye. But as their secrets begin to catch up with them, Ottie, Willow and Pip are forced to ask themselves which is harder: stepping into the future, or letting go of the past?

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Many thanks to Pan MacMillan via NetGalley for the copy of The Christmas Party to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Who doesn't love a Karen Swan novel? They're always so readable and even more so as now we are being treated to two books a year, one published in the Summer and one set in or around the festive period. All Karen's books have such fabulous covers and I particularly love this new one as I think it really sums up the themes in the book, and it also gets you excited as to who the girl is and what exactly may or may not go down at the Christmas party mentioned in the title? This latest festive offering – The Christmas Party- is set in Ireland and I was keen to see in what direction Karen would take the story.

I hoped the characters wouldn't be too clich├ęd like the way Irish people are often portrayed on TV but no thank god Karen has once again written another great read that has lots of emotion and depth as one family battles to reconcile with the fact that their beloved father has gone. But also that the last knight of the Lorne estate Declan has left the place in disarray given that the youngest sister has inherited the majority share when really she had become the rogue and the exile of the family. Things are very uncertain for the Lorne family and as each of the three sisters grapple with their own personal secrets combined with what is going on with the family as a whole this makes for an interesting and entertaining read.

It's mentioned at the beginning that the author writes deep complicated love stories within twisty plots and The Christmas Party is certainly no exception. The story opens as a letter slips from a book, being described as a threat she cannot see, there is weight tucked away in the words and now a game has been set in motion and this woman must run. On the 26th November at Lorne Castle in Kilmally, a party is being thrown to celebrate Declan and Serena's 30th anniversary. But tragedy strikes as Declan falls ill. Willow, the estranged sister last seen three years ago, is called back from Dublin. She is fiery and unpredictable but something significant caused her to leave the estate and her family behind vowing never to return. She reaches Cork too late to say sorry to her father for what occurred in the past and this guilt will eat at her but when all is revealed that in fact it is Willow who has now been left the castle and the vast majority of the estate this sets in motion a surprising chain of events. 

Willow was known in the family as the pariah, the one who left on bad terms. No reconciliation occurred, no kind words were uttered so why has she seemed to be selected as the chosen one? Sisters Ottie and Pip can't understand and maybe underneath it all they are hiding resentment that they weren't the chosen or preferred daughter. After all weren't they the ones who stood by their parents especially as times had been getting tough in terms of running the estate. Yes they had been left what their father deemed suitable for the needs, wants and aspirations but still it hurts a little to know the person who ran and the youngest seems to be the daughter of choice. 

Willow herself is soon faced with a tough decision, as the family is broke the castle can't be kept and soon she may be forced to sell. Why was she the one given the home that she rejected and abandoned that has now caused such a burden. It's like a punishment of sorts for her. I thought her overall storyline was interesting and it showed the many conundrums she faced and looked at them from all sides of the coin. It's difficult for Willow to reconcile the past with the present when such an important figure is gone from her life and the last time they spoke it resulted in the estrangement. When someone provides a get out clause for Willow will it give her the escape route she has longed for or will love and family have a greater role to play?

The three sisters all have three distinct storylines and to be honest they keep an awful lot hidden from each other. The entire situation combined with their own individual issues and problems pushes them to breaking point. Clearly, they weren't a family who were used to getting everything out in the open. Ottie in particular, if her secret had been revealed it would have had devastating consequences for all involved. Yet she was the one above the other two whom I felt was struggling the most. She was totally enraptured by something in her life but yet that something really wasn't good for her as it led to her being a shadow of her former self and having to lie about what she was doing or where she was going. I felt like she retreated into her shell given the burden of keeping things secret. 

Deep down Ottie knew what she was doing was wrong and really she felt like she couldn't share what she was experiencing with anyone. Running the camp site gave her an outlet and she got to meet many people especially when the Ultra Marathon took place on Lorne land. This marathon fuelled Ottie's storyline even further and I just knew at some stage she really was going to have to face the reality of her situation and make a decision. Something stark and shocking needed to occur to make her sit up and realise that life was short and that happiness in the right form should be grabbed with both hands that she should no longer hide it or bundle it up. No longer should her own ambitions and true happiness be suppressed. But if she takes the bull by the horns and admits the truth of what has being going on will it have even more of a devastating impact on the family than what has already come to the surface?

Pip, the sister who loved horses and had her own stables, had perhaps the weakest storyline out of the many running through the book. I just didn't warm to her that much. She wanted to get into developing thoroughbred race horses but didn't have the financial means to do so and to attempt to get what she needed she made the ultimate sacrifice but it didn't work out the way she had planned to. I felt a lot of the time she was a bit maudlin and that nothing really exciting happened with her. I connected with her the least out of all the characters and in my mind she wasn't the most memorable. 

As we neared the conclusion the party of the title comes into play and we slowly start to see the various strands of the story weave themselves together. The opening pages play a very important role and things begin to make sense. I was surprised and shocked about what was revealed and all that had gone before really started to make sense and I thought yes Karen Swan has lived up to her reputation of writing twisty novels with plenty of romance thrown in too. It was all really quite cleverly done and that The Christmas Party does make for a very good read and one just that little bit different from the usual run of the mill romance Christmas stories of which there are so many on offer.

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