4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Infused with humour yet heartbreaking,
This review is from: Before I Met You (Paperback)
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I haven't read any of Lisa Jewell's novels before but the storyline of this one intrigued me and I almost finished it in one sitting. Guernsey is certainly making its mark in fiction nowadays although in this case very little of the novel is actually set there. It is more about the Guernsey that the young women take with them. I am sure that anyone who has moved from the Channel Islands or even from a small village into a big city themselves will be able to identify with the experiences of Arlette and Betty.
Fairy Tales provide the basis for a lot of modern fiction, for `Before I Met You' `Dick Whittington' fits quite well, at least for Arlette's story. Admittedly she isn't impoverished financially and doesn't go to find her fortune but her insular world has left her impoverished in other ways, she knows nothing about the wider world and her circle of acquaintances has been small, she goes to the big city in search of excitement and real life. Betty's story has more in common with the classic quest as she goes in search of Clara Pickles who no one in the family has ever heard of before, why has Arlette left her a bequest in her Will? As far as the family are concerned Arlette had never left Guernsey.
The 2 stories run in parallel in many respects, chapter 7, set in 1995 ends with the words `Her real life had finally begun and chapter 11, set in 1919 ends with the words `Finally her life had begun'. Music links the 2, Arlette's story is set at the start of the Jazz era and Betty's at a time when Britpop ruled the world and the first person she speaks to in Soho runs a record stall in the market, there are many more parallels and connections for the reader to discover.
`Before I Met You' is at heart a good story well told. It has believable characters that I cared about; it is infused with humour yet is also heartbreaking. Soho becomes a character in its own right as we switch between the Bohemian 1920's to the grungy 1990's, where else could this story have taken place? The dual story structure kept me reading as I wanted to know what happened to the different characters, yes I did have a very good idea of how it would end but it was how Arlette and Betty got there that is important. How does Betty discover what we, the readers, already know and how will it affect the wider family? It is apparent that Arlette always intended for Betty to go on this quest and she leaves clues to help her along the way, who would have thought that a vintage fur coat would prove to be so important?
The novel also brings into question how well we actually know the people closest to us. Maybe some readers will start to wonder about their grandparents, could they have a past they know nothing about?