Sunday 7 July 2013

Review: Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

Having grown up on the quiet island of Guernsey, Betty Dean can't wait to start her new life in London. On a mission to find Clara Pickle - the mysterious beneficiary in her grandmother's will - she arrives in grungy, 1990s Soho, ready for whatever life has to throw at her. Or so she thinks...

In 1920s bohemian London, Arlette - Betty's grandmother - is starting her new life in a time of post-war change. Beautiful and charismatic, Arlette is soon drawn into the hedonistic world of the Bright Young People. But less than two years later, tragedy strikes and she flees back to Guernsey for the rest of her life.

As Betty searches for Clara, she is taken on a journey through Arlette's extraordinary time in London, uncovering a tale of love, loss and heartbreak. Will the secrets of Arlette's past help Betty on her path to happiness?

Review: I am a massive Lisa Jewell fan, Ralph's Party is one of my all time favourite books and so I was very excited when this book came out. I want to catch up on the last few Lisa Jewell novels over the summer and this was the first that I chose. The book jumps between two time zones, 1920 and 1995. I have to say, I found this is little disconcerting to begin with, until I understood the significant of the two years. Betty is searching for someone mentioned in her grandmother's will, and the 1920 parts of the book, bring together the things that Betty is searching for. It tells her grandmother's story, of the people she met and how she came to be in London, as Betty is now. I have to say, I found the 1920s section of the book a little slow, and did find myself skimming parts of it. I liked the fact that it is tying everything together, but I didn't really like the character of Arlette and so wasn't THAT interested in her story...

The 1995 section of the book, I really enjoyed, I liked Betty's self discovery and the kind of capers that she got up to trying to find a job and a place in soho when she first comes over the London. I really felt for her at some points, not realising the way that life is in a big city, having come over from Guernsey. She meets a mark stall holder in front of her hideous sounding studio flat. This character I really liked, I thought John Brightly was genuine, and lovely, and on,y ever wanted to help Betty, I think he was key in tying Betty's side of the story together, and I was willing them to form a relationship right the way to the end of the book. His sister is also a wonderful character, I really enjoyed reading about Betty's animated interactions with her. 

I didn't understand the significance of some of the other characters in both parts of the book. Arlette seems to mention a lot of names that then don't form any major part in the story, and there is Betty's friend Bella whom she talks to a handful of times in the book, but who doesn't really play a significant part either. 

I really loved the setting of this novel, I love soho and all the mentions of the street names and locations was really fun because I could picture where Betty was and the kind of atmosphere she was experiencing. Arlette too roamed around parts of London I am familiar with, and with the added back drop of the roaring twenties, I really enjoyed reading about the well-described settings for their stories. 

As much as I didn't enjoy the 1920 part of the book, I really liked the dual-setting structure. I love a novel when there are two separate parts that are linked an eventually come together at the end of the story (a bit like Ralph's Party) and so I did find that made the book read a bit quicker than it might have done if the parts hadn't been interwoven so well. This is a great book to read in the sunshine and it has a real mysterious, historical aspect to it that I really enjoyed. If you are a fan of Lisa Jewell then I'm sure you will love this novel. If you're not so keen on books that jump from time to time then this would not be for you.

In read this book as part of the summer reading challenge on Laura's Lovelock Book Reviews Blog.

If you fancy a copy of the book for yourself, click here

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