As a first time reader of Lisa Jewell, I was a little unsure about what to expect when I received this book as a gift; however, I was very pleasantly surprised with this lovely story, set in the 1920s and the 1990s, which I enjoyed from start to finish.
In the 1990s Elizabeth (Betty) comes to London from her home in Guernsey where she has spent the last few years caring for her step-father's mother, the elderly but glamorous Arlette, with her lacy stockings, her red silk shoes and her well-hidden secrets. After Arlette's death, Betty is puzzled when she discovers that Arlette has left a large sum of money in her will to the deliciously named Clara Tatiana Pickles, of whom no-one in the family seems to know anything about. Betty, who discovers that Clara's last known address was in Soho, sets off from Guernsey and arrives in London, takes a studio flat right in the heart of Soho and begins searching for the elusive Ms Pickles. Whilst searching, Betty meets a variety of interesting people including the tall, dark and gloweringly handsome market trader, John, and the infamous Dom Jones, lead singer of the band 'Wall', both of whom are attracted to the lovely Betty. As Betty says to herself as she looks around her new studio flat: "Real life has finally begun."
In the 1920s we learn about Arlette's life as a young woman - of how she left her family on Guernsey and moved to London, how she got a job in Liberty's, became the muse of a rising artist, became intimately involved with a man who would not have been considered suitable by her family, and became part of the bohemian group of people known as the 'Bright Young Things' with their parties, jazz clubs and drinking dens. But, ultimately, do we learn who Clara Pickles is, and why she was so important to Arlette?
Lisa Jewell sets her scenes beautifully and writes descriptively well of the fashions and music of the times, and she has created some wonderful characters for her novel, particularly Betty who is a lovely creation: pretty, bright, slightly kooky and always the optimist - and, although I enjoyed reading about Arlette and her interesting life, I was always glad to get back to the sections about Betty to see how her life was progressing in 1990s London. This is not a novel of great literary weight - and it's not meant to be one - but it is a lovely summer read to entertain you while you relax by the pool, laze in the garden or curl up on the sofa.