From the blurb:
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?
For me, curling up with a Lisa Jewell novel is like curling up with a coffee in front of a warm fire – comforting, cosy with the guarantee that it will warm the cockles of my heart. This book did not disappoint. Well-written, vivid and at once warm and funny and poignant and moving. It’s a more mature read than some of Lisa’s earlier novels – even with a relatively young heroine, it is less ‘chicklit’ in feel and deals with some serious rather than frivolous themes.
I especially enjoyed the dual points of view explored in the book – of Arlette, a young woman in 1920s London, and her step-granddaughter Betty, in 1990s London. There are wonderful parallels and also juxtaposition of the women’s experiences that made for a compelling and powerful read. The characters are multi-faceted and realistic and likeable, and I was rather sad by the end of the book that their story had come to an end.
For me, the best part of this book is the sense of place that the author creates. I love the island of Guernsey, so I enjoyed the descriptions of that setting, but it is London that really comes alive on the pages. Having read this book soon after finishing The Paris Wife, which depicts 1920s Paris, I found myself drawing parallels and enjoying the glimpse of life in bohemian London during that era. I think the author does a marvellous job of capturing the heart of London – Soho – without over-romanticising it. Take the following extract:
All she knew was that the day was dying and the night was giving birth to itself, and there was something electric, something magnetic pulling her down Carnaby Street, past self-consciously crazy boutiques, past grimy pubs, through the throngs of tourists and teenage girls just like her, girls from somewhere else with overblown ideas of themselves, girls having a special treat with dowdy mothers and bored father, a day in town with an early lunch at Garfunkel’s, overfilled bowls from the salad bar, tickets for a West End show tucked safely in Mum’s bum-bag. It wasn’t real. Even to Betty’s immature, small-town eyes she could see through the fakery and the stage setting. There was something both murky and beguiling beyond this plastic street of Union Jacks and Beatles posters, something grimy and flittering.
By the end of the book, I found myself wanting to visit London and the locations that feature in the story, so alive did the characters feel to me.
Of course, at the heart of the story is romance – that of Arlette and of Betty – and indeed all sorts of relationship are explored in the novel. The result is a touching and memorable book that I recommend to any reader who enjoys romance.
Before I Met You is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.