18/06/2018

After You (by Jojo Moyes)

Nearly three years ago I read the novel ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes. It was powerful, moving and thought-provoking, and I could hardly put it down. When it ended, I felt as if I wanted to know more about Louisa, the narrator. So I was delighted to learn that there was a sequel. I waited until it was available in paperback, and put it on my wishlist. I was given it for a recent birthday, and have just finished reading it.

Wow.

‘After You’ is a wonderful book. It has 400 pages, but I finished it in just a couple of days. It picks up Louisa’s story two years after the somewhat traumatic ending of ‘Me Before You’. She has been travelling in Europe, but at last decided that she needs to return to the UK.

A generous legacy means that she owns a flat near London, even if she hasn’t bothered to furnish it, or even unpack her clothes. She is estranged from her family, and doesn’t have any close friends. She’s taken a job serving in a bar at an airport, and she doesn’t much enjoy that either, but it earns her some money and she doesn’t have to think too much….

Then she has a very unpleasant accident, which has the positive result of getting back in touch with her parents and sister. Then, just as she’s starting to feel like herself again, at least physically, a stranger knocks at her door. 16-year-old Lily is the catalyst to an entire new way of looking at the world from just about every perspective….

The plot is tightly woven, covering a wide range of issues. Dealing with grief is at the forefront; Lou is still grieving the man she lost, as are his parents in their different ways. She joins a care group intended to help people express their feelings and find support, and in that discovers many other ways of gradually coming to terms with and - possibly - starting to move on from bereavement. There are some caricatures, inevitably; it’s the only way to keep track of the somewhat wide cast of caricatures. But Louisa is believable, as is a teenage boy she meets at the group, struggling after losing his mother.

There’s a romantic interest, but it’s taken quite slowly and the inevitable - eventual - bedroom scenes are thankfully devoid of too much detail. There are some other sordid, sometimes shocking accounts - in particular one near the end, where the viewpoint temporarily switches to that of another character in a side chapter, and another during the climax of the book - but in the context of the story, they are necessary. The author is skilful in writing hints and generalities, painting a broad picture, rather than gory or otherwise unnecessary specifics.

Other themes are covered too; feminism and patriarchy are given a somewhat light-hearted caricatured place, but with a serious message. The importance of standing up for oneself is covered too, and the way that being honest about one’s mistakes can release people from immense stress and anxiety. The complexities of life for modern teenagers, and the dangers of hasty reactions are also touched upon.

But the author isn’t preaching; the main characters seem real, and the story is gripping. It was only after finishing that I realised just how many difficult issues were examined in the context of the plot.

There’s more bad language than I like, but it’s not inappropriate in the context of the book. I think this book could be of value to older teenagers as well as being an excellent read for adults; indeed, with today’s earlier maturing teens, perhaps some streetwise girls as young as thirteen or fourteen might find this book thought-provoking, although most of the characters are adults.

It’s not essential to have read ‘Me Before You’ before starting this novel, but I would recommend doing so. Despite the fact that it's nearly three years since I read it, I had no problem recalling the main plot and Lou herself. And having just checked for links... I'm thrilled to see that there is another sequel, which I will be putting on my wishlist next year when it's out in paperback.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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