Readers of Moyes’ other books will recognize one of commonly used plot devices: lovers of the past are juxtaposed with an analogous couple in the present time, there being an unexpected tie between the two pairs. However, the fact that the author has re-used this theme doesn’t affect her ability to create new and satisfying wine in this old bottle. The story is not really as predictable as you would suspect, and contains several clever twists. Most importantly, Moyes incorporates those elements of storytelling at which she excels – her “heart,” and her ability to capture realistic dialogue and historical social conventions.
The book begins in 1960 with Jennifer Stirling, 27, waking up from a near-fatal car wreck to find that she can’t remember much. Although she is apparently rich, beautiful, and married to an important executive, she only has fleeting memories of who she was before the accident. She also finds evidence, through some hidden love letters, that she was having an affair with someone before the accident, but can’t even remember who he was.
In the present day, we meet Ellie Haworth, 32, a reporter who keeps telling herself she is “living the dream.” But her relationship with John, a famous author, leaves something to be desired: he is married, and after a year with him, he still shows no sign of leaving his wife.
Going back and forth in time, we find out what happened to the couple from forty years before, and why two people in the present day get involved in their story.
Discussion: This book was the winner of the 2011 Romantic Novel of the Year Award in the U.K., and deservedly so. Unlike more explicit books that lose all sense of romance in the details, Moyes knows how to evoke a feeling without an anatomy lesson. In this passage, for example, Jenny and her lover Anthony wordlessly encounter each other in an elevator, when Jenny is with her husband:
“She looked at the floor, then her eyes slid back to Anthony’s, the rise and fall of her chest revealing how much he’d shocked her. Their eyes met, and in those few silent moments, he told her everything. He told her that she was the most astonishing thing he had ever encountered. He told her that she haunted his waking hours, and that every feeling, every experience he had had in his life up to that point was flat and unimportant compared to the enormity of this. He told her he loved her.”
Or there is this touching moment, when the two present-day protagonists are discussing Anthony’s letters to Jenny:
“Why do you think nobody writes love letters like these anymore? she says… I mean, yes, there are texts and e-mails and things, but nobody sends them in language like this, do they? Nobody spells it out anymore….
‘Perhaps they do,’ he says… ‘Or perhaps, if you’re a man, it’s impossible to know what you’re meant to say.’”
But when he says that, of course, we readers know exactly what he means to say!
Evaluation: I haven’t yet found a book by Jojo Moyes not worth reading. This one may not be quite as mind-blowing as Me Before You, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lovely, lovely book.
Published in paperback by Penguin Books, 2012