Top positive review
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A wonderfully uplifting and take-you-out-of-yourself romantic family story from Moyes
on 27 February 2014
There's 'chick lit' and then there's 'chick lit' (sorry - I dislike the term too). Some I wouldn't touch with a bargepole - I like a bit of 'meat' and depth which is often lacking. Since reading a World Book Night copy of 'Me Before You', I've mentally added Moyes to my list of 'willing to try more' writers. This sounded promising.
And it was. Even though at the heart of it is a basic boy-meets-girl, it's really a story about families. As with Me Before You, it starts with a rich, successful businessman and his life-changing problem - computer whizz-kid Ed is accused of insider trading and banished from his joint directorship while the case is investigated. A million miles away on a council estate, Jess is struggling with two jobs, two children and no child maintenance from her estranged husband. Working in a pub and running her own cleaning business, one of her customers one day rudely shuts a door in her face, having a bad day of his own.
It's a pure romantic-movie shuffle that get these two main characters into the same scene. And then another. It's the kind of story where you WANT certain things to happen, and the characters are well-enough written for you to feel you know who they are, you understand them, you want things to turn out well for them.
This applies to the other two main characters - just as important to the story are the children. Teenage Nicky is everything a typical teenager often is - withdrawn, sullen, introspective. Favouring gothic make-up, he becomes a target for a vicious local family. Younger Tanzie is also struggling in her surroundings, having an affinity for mathematics but no way of climbing out of the local school system in which Jess knows she'll also become a victim. Nicky's growth in particular through the book is one of the most enjoyable facets of the story. Tanzie adds a lot of the humour and heart to the story. As does the drooling, shedding and rather flatulent dog mountain, Norman.
And the story turns on Tanzie - a maths competition in Scotland forces Jess's story away from the council estate, it could raise the money to send Tanzie to a private school where she could thrive. But how can they get there?
Jess is impossible to dislike. She's hardworking and self-sacrificing, ever-optimistic, and just trying to make ends meet and scrape together a decent life for her small family. Her relationship with Ed is believable - he's shaken into awareness of those around him by her response to his rudeness and his growing admiration for her and her children allows him to see both his own personal problem and tense family situation in a clearer light. Ed is not a perfect hero, but with flaws and tics (wearing identical clothes every day to avoid the effort of planning an outfit) he's also hard to dislike.
We have a family drama, a road movie, a tentative romance, all bound up in a car with our four characters (and of course Norman), in which each of them go on their own little journey inside the slowly northbound car. At times you don't want the road trip to end. I really came to like the four of them, could see each of them clearly as I read, and knew just what I wanted to happen.
And at the end (no spoilers), I was pleased with how Moyes chose to bring the strands together and settle the story. Realistic and without sappiness.
If you're a fan already of Moyes, you'll continue to be pleased. If you've never tried her, I can recommend this if you are looking for something that isn't a difficult read, treads a well-worn path with style and humour, and entertains with a touching little family love story.
Review of a Netgalley advance copy.