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Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

After YouAfter You (Me Before You #2)
Jojo Moyes
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 407p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

**Note** – this book is the sequel to Me Before You and if you haven’t read that, it’s a must before reading both this book and this review as there will be spoilers for Me Before You.

After You picks up about eighteen months after the end of Me Before You and Lou has bought herself a flat with the money Will left for her and works in a bar at the airport. She’s done some travelling but she hasn’t as yet, managed to live up to Will’s words for her:

Don’t think of me too often. Just live well. Just live. 

Will and the decision he made still consumes her. She’s not even on speaking terms with her mother, who can’t seem to forgive her for the role she played in what happened. People whisper about her. They judge when they weren’t there, they weren’t the one who spent six months with Will, living his existence. Lou still can’t get over Will, still hasn’t been able to move on.

Me Before You ripped my guts out. I’m not sure I’ve ever sobbed so much reading a book in my whole life and I’ve read thousands and thousands and thousands of books. For a while after it I couldn’t even think of it without wanting to cry. It’s safe to say that it’s a book that has stuck with me, as has the character of Lou. Will has found his peace now, he got what he wanted. It’s Lou and his family who were left behind to deal with the fallout of public perception and to pick up the pieces of their lives. When I heard that Jojo Moyes was writing a sequel to Me Before You,  I was equal parts anticipatory glee and trepidation. In some ways, I found Me Before You the perfect novel because of its lack of a perfect ending. It felt like on one hand, I wanted to see Lou find happiness in the future. She deserved it. But on the other, I wasn’t sure what ending I wanted for her and whether or not that could be delivered. I can imagine there was probably quite a few people feeling the same way. It was impossible not to become invested in Will and Lou in Me Before You. But once it came out, there was no way that I wasn’t actually going to read this!

I don’t think there was ever going to be a book after Me Before You that would satisfy every single desire for every single reader. I loved being able to catch up with Lou again, to hear what she’d been doing since Will died and whether or not she’d managed to begin living her life again, begin moving on. Lou is still in a pretty bad place at the opening of the novel – she has a flat she hasn’t even bothered to decorate that doesn’t even feel like home and a job that is merely a sort of marking time. She doesn’t seem to have many, or any friends, and is disconnected from her family. She still keeps in touch with Nathan, Will’s former carer who now lives and works in New York. He’s her connection to the past, the one she can briefly mention Will to without having to wait for the disapproval, for the judgement.

A chance arrival of someone on her doorstep gives Lou some purpose, suddenly she has something, someone that she wants to fix. There’s no denying that Lily is a troubled person, who has probably had a pretty miserable upbringing with her social climbing, perfectionist mother. And I can understand how Lou would latch onto her, want to be the one to help her. But Lily was a hard character to like and she kept intruding on the story a bit too abrasively at times. She’s a teenager and typically selfish and nasty at times, and maybe I just felt so fiercely protective of Lou after everything she’d been through that anyone who was going to treat her like dirt whilst expecting help and a free place to live, was always going to get on my nerves. I willed Lou to have a spine, to stand up for herself, to take her future in both hands and even though Lily seemed to be the thing giving her purpose, she was also the thing that was most holding her back.

It was always going to be hard to introduce someone new for Lou but I really liked Sam and I thought the mistaken identity shortly after they meet properly made for some funny reading. Sam was laid back and easy-going, the sort of guy who doesn’t take much maintenance really, which would definitely be different for Lou. Even with meeting Sam though, Lou is still living in the past, not really moving on from Will but always looking back to her time with him. It’s something that she needs to learn to let go of, to sever that connection without forgetting him, but stopping making him the person she talks to in her head. She needed a bit of a wake up call to figure out what she had standing in front of her now and not to let it slip away.

I think, overall for me, After You was a very satisfying follow up to Me Before You. Lou went through a lot in this book, but you could see her coming out the other side. It wasn’t a perfect ending, and things weren’t tied up neatly in a bow but I feel this was very much the right choice. Life isn’t perfect and Lou still had a way to go on her journey. But as a reader, you could see her future. You got an idea of what she was going to be doing and who was going to be waiting for her when she came back and she needed to do that, to spread her wings and get her life back again. She’d spent far too long just treading water, just going through the motions of life and not at all living up to the words that Will had left for her. At the end of this book, you can see her embracing them and that things would be getting better. It wouldn’t be right away, but it’d be there. After You didn’t destroy me like it’s predecessor but it definitely gave me what I needed for Lou.

8/10

Book #149 of 2015

 

 

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The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

The Last Letter From Your Lover
Jojo Moyes
Hodder & Stoughton
2010, 489p
Read from my local library

Ellie is a London journalist who finds herself in the firing line of her boss. Desperately looking for a story, something to fill the newspaper’s feature pages, she heads down into the dusty archives. The paper is moving and Ellie’s boss thinks that something from when the newspaper first moved into its building versus now, might make a good news piece. Ellie doesn’t expect to find anything but her job seems a little under threat right now and given that her personal life is a mess, she needs something to go right for her. She finds a simple letter, tucked into a file. It’s written by a man in the 1960s, to his lover, asking her to leave her husband and meet him so they can go away and be together. Ellie is immediately caught up in the mystery of it, she’s determined to see if she can track down the couple in the letter and see if they ever ended up together. That will be her great story.

In 1960, Jennifer wakes from a coma in a London hospital with almost no memory. All they tell her is that she was in a car accident, both her mother and her husband refuse to answer any questions, clearly changing the subject and letting her know that they find it uncomfortable and she shouldn’t ask anymore questions. She returns home to a life she cannot remember, with the husband she barely knows and friends she struggles to fit in with. Her life suddenly seems so pointless and shallow, like there is no purpose to it. She is to look pretty and be an asset to her husband – she seems to have no aspirations and interests of her own. That is until she finds a letter tucked away into a book, a love letter. Slowly Jennifer begins to remember a lover, someone that she was willing to risk absolutely everything for. Now she just needs to find him again.

The Last Letter From Your Lover is split between Ellie and her life and Jennifer’s re-discovery of her own life. Both stories will come together in Ellie’s search for the ultimate happy ending.

After reading and absolutely loving Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You recently, I’ve been intending to read her backlist. This was the one that I’d heard quite a bit of praise for so it’s the first one I borrowed from the library. I really enjoyed the contemporary part of the story – I loved Ellie and even though she is involved in an affair with a married man, I still felt for her, because she’s in that hopeless stage where she honestly believes that he will leave his wife… it’s a classic scenario. I did find her attitude towards her lover’s wife a bit callous at times – not in line with my personal way of thinking, but perhaps that way the way she had to be in order to justify the fact that she was messing around with a married man. I got right behind her quest to find out the mystery letter-writer and to find out what happened – I would’ve been exactly the same.

I didn’t enjoy Jennifer’s story as much, mostly because I really struggled to connect with her. She and her lover meet before her car accident and you get quite a picture of Jennifer – pretty, young, married a rich man and basically it is her job to keep him happy. She wears beautiful clothes, she sparkles at parties. She’s a bit cold, a bit…remote. Even as she changed and fell in love, perhaps for the first real time in her life, I couldn’t really relate to her. I didn’t dislike her as such, I just couldn’t find anything to really like about her, someone to cheer for. I felt for her at times in her situation…but then it was her own making.

I also would’ve liked a little more time spent on Ellie and her situation, rather than just brief sections at the beginning and at the end. I felt like that story could’ve been a little more involved without losing anything from the Jennifer story line, especially as Ellie comes to terms with where her life is headed and how it might not actually be making her happy.

Despite my criticisms, this is still a hell of a story. The whole idea and execution of it is wonderful and it kept me utterly engrossed, even with my slight aversion to Jennifer as a character. The story was bigger than her and I felt like it was such an enjoyable ride – it didn’t resonate with me quite as much as Me Before You but it was still an amazingly well written book. It’s definitely got me hunting down my next Jojo Moyes read, without a doubt.

8/10

Book #107 of 2012

The Last Letter From Your Lover is the 3rd book read for the What’s In A Name?5 challenge, fulfilling the 5th criteria: Something you’d carry in your purse/backback (obviously being letter. Not lover!).

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Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Me Before You
Jojo Moyes
Penguin AU
2012, 481p
Read from my Mt TBR Pile of Doom

I bought a Jojo Moyes book some time ago but never quite got around to reading it. My friend Marg from Adventures Of An Intrepid Reader gushed about her book The Last Letter From Your Lover and then this one came out. Danielle over at ALPHA Reader gave it a glowing review and I knew Marg had also read it recently as well. So I settled down over the weekend to give it a go and once I’d finished I was discussing it with Marg, who said she hadn’t gotten around to writing a review for it herself yet. So we decided to do another of our discussion reviews where we talk about how we found the book and a few key plot points or character issues. I’m hosting the first part of the discussion and Marg will have the conclusion today.

M: I am not really sure where to start with this book, other than to say what a fabulous book it was! Also, I really want to give kudos to the people who wrote the copy blurb for this book because whilst you do know what the book is about, you don’t really know what the book is ABOUT if you get what I mean!

B: I agree. It is the most amazing book – it’s fantastic. It sounds like I’m gushing (and I am!) but it has to be said. The blurb is just such a tiny, tiny part of what people are going to get when they read this book. A young woman who has just lost her job and a former dynamic corporate type now confined to a wheelchair – their lives are about to collide. That is barely scraping the tip of the iceberg really. I really want to talk about the characters, because they’re given such depth! What did you think of Lou and Will?

M: You couldn’t help but like both Lou and Will! They both had an incredible journey to take emotionally and they happened to meet each other right when they needed each other. Having said that, the way that Jojo Moyes built their characters up right from the beginning was really great.

At first, when we meet Lou, I thought that we had met characters like her before – the quirkily dressed, quirky character with a heart of gold. It turned out that hidden not too far below that exterior, there was a girl who was struggling to help prop her family up financially, who had never left her home town, who was hiding a terrible secret about her past that had affected her emotionally ever since it happened, and who was in effect stuck in the past. And let’s not talk about her relationship with her boyfriend!

I really felt for Lou’s family. They were a family who have always just got by, facing whatever challenges that life through at them, never really getting ahead. Now, with the economic recession biting, with Lou losing her job in the cafe after 7 years and Lou’s sister looking to improve her lot in life, it looks as though the financial situation for the whole family is just about to get a lot worse.

I must confess that I had to laugh when I was reading about Lou’s room in the family home. When I first moved to the UK, I was lodging with a family that were friends of a friend and I was staying in a room that I imagine was about the same size. There was a single bed and maybe a foot at the end of the bed to the outward opening door, there was a dressing table with a TV and a wardrobe and maybe a foot between them and the bed and that was it! Bought back memories.

B: I loved Lou and I quite agree that Moyes took a somewhat stereotypical ‘quirky’ girl and gave her so much more depth of character. Her vulnerability and that she was so stagnant in life, trapped into supporting her family when really she should’ve been out living her life made me very sympathetic to her. I didn’t like her family quite so much as you, though. At times they were quite unfair to Lou and I felt for her. (I didn’t say I liked them, as I think they helped to keep her tied down to them but I did feel for them as a family!)

It wasn’t hard to find sympathy for Will either. Prior to his accident, which was through no fault of his own, he was the sort of guy who climbed mountains! He was a go-getter, a do-er, not really a thinker and to be rendered a quadriplegic must’ve just been unimaginably devastating for him. I didn’t realise just how difficult it must be to live with an injury like Will’s. My knowledge of people with such injuries is limited to TV and fiction where characters are downcast for a while and then embrace their new restrictions and play paraplegic basketball for the Olympics, or something. Will lived with undeniable pain and suffering every single day. He couldn’t do anything for himself and had to submit to humiliating rituals just to be fed or cleaned. I can understand his taciturn nature in the beginning. I think I’d hate the world quite a lot if I were Will Traynor also.

What I liked was this was more than just “sassy village girl is rude back to rude quadriplegic man and they find understanding”. It’s so much deeper than that. Their relationship is full of the most amazing highs and lows, all the way through right until the very end. They have moments where they connect a little bit and then the next day something happens that sets them back and the process almost begins all over again.

M: I could only think what I would be like if I was in Will’s place, and I am pretty sure I would be a pretty sullen cow too. He had gone from having an amazing lifestyle to having very little dignity, not even the right to make a decision about his own future. He had decided what he wanted, but his family was struggling to accept his wishes.

Will’s mother had forced him into accepting having a companion for six months and that is what had bought Lou into the equation. Will already has a carer, Nathan, who takes care of most of the medical and personal care, but Mrs Traynor is hoping that by employing someone like Lou, she can help shake Will out of his emotional blackhole.

In many ways, I think that Lou did manage to do that, but it didn’t have the result that Mrs Traynor ultimately wanted. There was also a lot of tension between the individual family members, and with Lou as they all struggled with how to deal with what was, at its heart, a tragedy that impacted on all of their lives.

You would have thought that there would have been more than enough drama for the characters to deal with, but Moyes continued to add more and more layers of complexity to the story by doing things like bringing Will’s old girlfriend into the story, and by expanding on the marital difficulties that faced his parents. She also managed to add those additional layers to Lou’s own story by expanding her horizons with Will’s help, having her face her past and to be a bit more assertive in dealing with her family, particularly her sister.

****

This ends my part of the review – pop over to Marg’s blog and read the rest of the post here.

Book #78 of 2012

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