Sunday, March 01, 2015

Review: Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

I'm feeling some annoyance with this book because it took me so long to read.  The story moved so slowly, with hardly anything of significance happening in the first half of the book.  Also, the way it is written with one chapter happening in 1920 followed by a chapter in 1995 seemed to kill any sort of urgency to keep turning the page.

But at the same time, I have to acknowledge that the story is interesting and the book is well written.  The two story lines of two very different women provide a compelling story of the struggles of women then and now.  The expectations of family and society along with the conflicting desires of independence and love always make for a thoughtful mix.  Also, I loved the London setting and the time period - both time periods.  I liked reading about London after the war, and the shops and Bloomsbury and Soho areas.  Also, I found the 1995 setting to be of particular interest because I graduated from high school in 1994 and was out on my own for the first time in 1995, so I felt a connection with Betty in that way.

The story is about Arlette and her step-granddaughter, Betty.  After Arlette dies, she leaves everything a person named Clara Pickle, someone no one in her family has ever heard of, nor are they able to locate.  So Betty, who has spent the past few years caring for Arlette, decides she'll move to London and find Clara.  As Betty is making the transition to living in London and beginning her search, we are also told the story of Arlette moving to London as a young woman.  We see them both falling in love with the city, exercising their independence, getting their first jobs, making new friends and attracting the attention of men.  They're both young and beautiful and on their own in London for the first time their lives.  And here's something of a spoiler, but both of them gradually watch as their dreams fall apart.  This story is so sad.  I'm something of a fan of sad stories, but this may have been too sad, especially where Arlette was concerned.  Betty is still young, so there's still some hope for her.  But we already know how Arlette's life ended, and knowing the life she had before, the life her family knew nothing of, makes the rest of her life especially bleak.  I suppose this is why the book is called, "Before I Met You."

This is another book I would place on my imaginary shelf titled, "an abortion would have solved most of your problems."  So many women - and men - in this story have their lives destroyed by the result of unwanted or unplanned pregnancies - whether it be the result of rape, ignorance or carelessness.  From the woman who feels obligated to marry her rapist to the alcoholic mother with a houseful of young boys to the pop star with the failed marriage and three children under the age of three.  There's something so sad about children being viewed as dreaded responsibilities and punishment.  They're doing these children no favors bringing them into a world in which they aren't wanted and are in turn neglected or resented by angry, sad or unprepared parents..  In this way, maybe this book is a bit too painfully realistic.

Maybe I need more happiness in the books I read or if it's going to be sad, I want there to be some value in it.  As I said before, the book is well-written, it's given me quite a bit to think about.  But I don't know that I gained much from the reading experience.  Maybe it isn't so much happiness that I need as some sort of a strong emotional impact.  This was simply dreary.

This is the second book I've read by Lisa Jewell in the past few weeks, and yet again, I found myself disappointed with the attempt to create a "happy ending" in a case which was far, far from happy.  To be fair, this ending was not quite as bad as House We Grew Up In, which left me horrified, but still, so depressing.  While, yes, there was some resolution, it wasn't especially satisfying.  The choices made didn't seem to be choices that were great, but rather, not as bad as the alternative.

Not sure I'd recommend this book to anyone, though it might work well for a book club.  Again, like House We Grew Up In, there's quite a bit I'd like to discuss regarding this book.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

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