The One Plus One (by Jojo Moyes)

I’m never quite sure what to expect when I start a book by JoJo Moyes. She manages to write women’s fiction in quite a variety of genres, from historical fiction to stories set in Australia to one about training horses .. and also some set amongst more ordinary people in the UK. I like her style of writing, even though some of her books appeal more than others, so was pleased to be given this one for my birthday a few months ago.

‘The One Plus One’ revolves initially around a single mother called Jess, who works both as a cleaner and in a bar simply to keep her head above water. Her ten-year-old daughter Tanzie is a very gifted mathematician who finds it hard to make friends. They also have Nicky living with them; Nicky is Tanzie’s teenage half-brother, but no blood relation to Jess at all. He dresses like a goth, complete with make-up, and regularly gets into fights with their highly unpleasant neighbours.

Tanzie’s maths teacher thinks she should be sent to a private school where she can be challenged; she’s offered a 90% scholarship, but it’s still way beyond the family’s means. Then it’s suggested that Tanzie could take part in a competition in Scotland; the only drawback being that they live on the South coast of England, don’t have a working car, and can’t possibly afford train or coach fares.

Into the mixture comes Ed, who has no idea what it means to struggle financially, but has made a stupid mistake and may lose everything. After some misunderstandings he finds himself offering to drive Jess and family to Scotland, although he doesn’t quite bargain for the large and sometimes smelly dog Norman…

Most of the story then takes place on the lengthy journey which takes considerably longer than it might be expected to. It’s cleverly done, each chapter focussing on one of these four, seeing life from their point of view and getting inside their heads. As they drive further north, Nicky finds himself relaxing, partly due to the influence of Ed as a very positive role model who understands how a teenage boy thinks; Tanzie becomes more stressed as she realises her entire future is at stake, and Jess wonders what on earth they’re doing, and why Ed is being so nice to them. Ed spends some time wondering exactly the same thing.

It’s a mostly light-hearted book, with some incidents and conversations that made me smile, although there’s a serious underlying theme, showing brilliantly the enormous gap between those who have always had plenty of money and those who don’t have enough, no matter how careful they are. It shows the loneliness of two children who are very different from each other, yet are both rejected by their peers.

The book is quite thought-provoking, bringing up several legal issues, showing how easy it is for even the most cautious or honest people to be tempted into wrongdoing, either for their own sanity or for the sake of their families. The book is mostly about families: the modern, complicated, blended style of family where it’s best to put aside prejudices and jealousies and see the best in each other.

There’s rather more bad language than I’m comfortable with, which was disappointing; I also felt that the ending was a little abrupt, leaving one or two threads a little too open. But despite these minor gripes, I thought this a moving and thoughtful novel, one which I could barely put down towards the end. Definitely recommended.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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