After You by Jojo Moyes

635797385026424731-Cover.After-You.9780525426592After You

by Jojo Moyes

In this follow-up to Moyes’s Me Before You, we catch up with Louisa Clark, who had fallen in love with Will Traynor, a quadriplegic whom she was hired to care for.  Will has been dead for eighteen months now, having ended his life at a Swiss clinic for assisted suicide.  Upon his death, Will left Lou a chunk of money, instructing her to go make something of her life.

“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”

She has spent that money traveling, living in Paris for a while (a place that she had dearly wanted to visit with Will), and ultimately returning to England and buying a modest flat.  Louisa is floundering.  Will’s gift to her has not made her feel like she is able to make a fresh start; rather, she is working a dead-end job in an airport bar, and is still mired in grief over Will.

When Louisa is involved in a terrible accident herself that nearly takes her life, she s forced to confront her own mental state.  During her convalescence, she joins a “moving on circle,” a support group for people grieving the loss of a loved one.  Through this group, a new love interest enters her life (actually, her accident was her first encounter with him) – and this is pretty predictable.  I mean, of course the sequel to Me Before You was going to see Louisa falling in love again, right?  Predictable as it may be, it’s still poignant and relatable – especially to anyone who has loved and lost and found that life does go on (which I have).  In any case, Moyes handles this new relationship pretty expertly, with plenty of realistic fumbling, holding back, and fear of getting involved with anyone new – in other words, messiness.

To complicate matters, a strange teenage girls shows up on Lou’s doorstep one evening, out of the blue.  The girl turns out to be Will’s daughter – a daughter he never knew he had before he died.  Lilly is in trouble, too, and of course Louisa takes her under her wing, at great personal cost, but ultimately Lilly’s existence is perhaps the greatest gift from Will.

While After You doesn’t pack the emotional punch of Me Before You, it’s tender and funny, and a perfect sequel.  I’ve grown quite fond of Louisa Clark, and would eagerly read yet another follow-up novel if Moyes is inclined to write one.



The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

51ra1hvzYbL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The Girl You Left Behind: A Novel

by Jojo Moyes

I have such mixed feelings about this book!

Like The Last Letter from Your Lover, The Girl You Left Behind is two intersecting stories from two different periods of time, one past and one present.

At the heart of The Girl You Left Behind is a painting entitled, well, The Girl You Left Behind.  Painted in the early part of the twentieth century, it is a portrait of a young woman by her artist husband.  When France is drawn into WWI, Edouard must leave to fight, and his loving portrait of her is all Sophie has of him.  In his absence, Sophie Lefévre returns to her hometown of St. Péronne to run the family restaurant/hotel with her younger brother and older sister, whose husband is also fighting at the Front.  When German forces take over the town, Sophie and her sister are forced to prepare and serve meals to German soldiers.  The Kommandant becomes fixated on Sophie’s portrait, and then on Sophie herself, and Sophie, desperate to protect her family and be reunited with her husband, makes a perilous decision.

Abruptly, the story jumps ahead to the present (minus a decade or so).  Liv Halston still grieves for the husband who died suddenly four years previous.  Alone and floundering in the Glass House she shared with him, on the verge of bankruptcy, Paul McCafferty enters her life by way of rescuing a damsel in distress – or more accurately, a drunk Liv who has her purse stolen at a bar.  Predictably, the two fall for each other, and for the first time in four years, Liv begins to feel alive again.  Until Paul notices the exquisite painting hanging in Liv’s bedroom, which happens to be the subject of a restitution claim which he is handling for the firm he works for – a firm that recovers artwork lost or stolen during wartime.

Their budding romance comes to a screeching halt, and Liv and Paul find themselves on opposite sides of an increasingly contentious case involving the history and rightful ownership of the painting, The Girl You Left Behind.  Liv is almost maniacally determined to keep the painting at any cost – and indeed, the cost begins to become absurd – because her late husband gave it to her, and so her emotional attachment to it runs deep.  The Lefévre family insists that it was stolen by the Germans during the First World War, however, and they are determined to have it returned to its rightful ownership.  Complicating matters further is the fact that the painting is deemed to be worth a small fortune.

In her determination to retain the painting, Liv undertakes a mission to learn everything she can about the painting’s history and origins, and the more she learns, the more unsettled she is.  What happened to Sophie Lefévre, and how did her portrait end up in the hands of an American journalist living in Spain?

I was completely drawn into Sophie’s story, but found myself frustrated, and even a little disgusted by the present-day Liv.  Her utter refusal to even contemplate giving up the painting even in the face of mounting evidence of its tainted background made me dislike her principles, which made it difficult to like or even root for her.  I won’t spoil the ending, but … well, read it for yourself.

Although both Sophie’s and Liv’s stories are full of unlikelihoods, the novel is no less enjoyable because of them.  Moyes again delivers rich characters and settings, and an intricate story that is compulsively readable.  As with Moyes’s other works, have some tissues handy.

Tacked onto the end of the novel is Moyes’s novella, Honeymoon in Paris, which is the prequel to The Girl You Left Behind, previously available only as an e-book.  The novella is okay – definitely a romantic comedy as opposed to the romantic drama that is the main novel.

The Last Letter From Your Lover

9780143121107_p0_v7_s260x420 The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel

by Jojo Moyes

After being bowled over by Me Before You last year, I’ve wanted to read more Jojo Moyes.  The Last Letter From Your Lover did not disappoint.

I will say first that I am not a fan of romance or of love stories.  As a terminal cynic, I find the tripe of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl overcome silly and/or completely unrealistic obstacle, girl and boy live happily ever after completely barf-worthy.

But Moyes writes a different sort of love story.  Maybe it’s that her characters are very flawed, which makes them more believable, relatable, and likeable.  Maybe it’s that the stories are rife with heart wrenching conflict.  Maybe it’s that she manages to address some very real and serious social issues in her stories.  Whatever it is, I’m a fan of her particular brand of love story now.

The Last Letter From Your Lover opens in a hospital room in 1960.  The young and beautiful Jennifer Stirling has been in a terrible car accident and is only now waking up, weeks later, with no memory of the accident or what led up to it.

Jennifer’s husband Laurence is a wealthy, and important figure in London high society.  He takes his young wife home to continue her convalescence.  Over time, fragments of memory come back to Jennifer, and she begins to realize that the distance and even hostility she feels from her husband are not products of her imagination or injuries, but stem from something she can’t quite remember.  Then she discovers a strange handwritten letter tucked into a paperback book.  The letter is clearly written to her, and expresses undying love.  It’s signed only, “B.”  Jenny becomes obsessed with the letter, as well as others she finds hidden around the house, desperate to remember or find out who wrote them to her and why.  Eventually, she does learn the letter-writer’s identity, and is faced with a terrible choice.

About two-thirds of the way through the book, the story suddenly jumps to 2003.  Ellie Haworth, a young, beautiful journalist whose life is becoming more and more a mess, happens upon an old archived file in the bowels of the newspaper office for which she works, and in the file are a handful of love letters written by a mysterious man to an unnamed woman back in the 1960s.  Ellie becomes fixated on the letters, intent on finding out what happened to the star-crossed lovers.  She hopes that if they had a happy ending, then her own messy affair with a married man might end happily.

A central theme of the story is a feminist issue: the double standard that has always existed between men and women, how they conduct themselves, and the roles they are expected to inhabit.  In the 1960s, young Jennifer Stirling was very much a trophy wife: beautiful, but not expected to do much more than shop, look impeccable, and make her husband look good.  Typical of the times, her husband Laurence pretty much expects her to look good, shut up, and put out.  She is not to express her own thoughts or opinions, let alone even have them.  And for a while, she thinks this is a fine life to live.  Until someone comes along and shakes up everything she believes about herself and her life.  And when she decides to take the reins of her own life in hand, it causes scandal.  Laurence, on the other hand, can behave like an ass, have a mistress, and nobody thinks much of it.

While much changes on a societal level between the time Jennifer Stirling finds herself in love with someone forbidden and forty years later when Ellie Haworth is involved in an affair, it’s still disappointing to realize that women still tend to expect men to fulfill them and make them happy.  In that sense, not much has changed; women are still largely seen, and see themselves, as incomplete without a man.

In any case, I loved this story.  Moyes has such a gift for creating multidimensional characters, and believable situations, and transporting the reader to a different time and place.  Wonderful book that had the tears rolling down my face.


Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

15507958 Me Before You: A Novel
by Jojo Moyes

Louisa Clark – “Lou” to her friends and family – is twenty-seven and going nowhere fast.  She still lives with her parents in their cramped little house, along with her grandfather, her brilliant younger sister and nephew.  Lou has just lost her comfortable job at the cafe where she’s worked for the last seven years.  Her family depends on her meager income to help make ends meet.  After a string of temp jobs, Lou grudgingly accepts a six-month contract to work as a companion/caregiver for a quadriplegic.

Will Traynor has lived a big, adventurous, ambitious life.  He’s traveled all over the world, climbed mountains, jumped out of planes, and made a fortune in the cutthroat industry of business acquisitions.  At thirty-three, his life takes a devastating turn when he is crossing a street and is hit by a motorcycle.  Permanently paralyzed from the chest down, he is wheelchair bound and requires round-the-clock care.  Stripped of his ability to feed himself, dress himself, or even make the most mundane of choices for himself, and plagued by repeated infections and health problems related to his condition, Will does not see any point in going on with his life.

When Will’s and Lou’s lives intersect, they are both changed in profound ways.  The genesis of their relationship is full of tension and resentment, and Lou has serious misgivings about being able to fulfill the six-month contract she agreed to with this angry charge who hurls abuse at her.  Before long, however, her father loses his job, and she is the sole breadwinner supporting a family of six, so quitting is out of the question.  Over time, Lou and Will become more comfortable with one another, and a friendship develops.  When Lou learns by accident of Will’s ultimate plan and why she was hired on a six-month contract, she becomes determined to turn things around for Will.  In her quest to save Will, Will saves her.

This is a love story.  I’m not particularly a fan of love stories – or, I guess more accurately, of romance novels – but this story shook me.  This is not a story of bodice-ripping damsels in distress, or muscular, square-jawed men who come to the rescue.  This is a deep and profound story about love and loss, about living on one’s own terms, about finding untapped inner strength, and about loving another person enough to let go.

Me Before You forces the reader to explore some uncomfortable questions about living and dying, about who gets to decide if a life is worth living.  Moyes has brilliantly cast a quadriplegic man who feels he has nothing to live for as a hero, and the relationship that develops between Lou and Will is so natural, so believable, you would almost think that the author is pulling from personal experience (she’s not).  Although the subject matter is heavy, the story is not morbid, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

Read it.  It’s excellent.  And have a box of tissues handy.  I know I won’t get this story out of my head for a while.