Book review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes
A romance at its heart
Moyes, a journalist-turned-author, has published 12 books since 2002 and has won the Romantic Novelists award twice, with her work receiving quite some critical acclaim.
One can understand why. The book settles around one, comfortably drawing the reader into its world and keeping one interested in the twists and turns of the protagonist’s life.
The story is about Lou Clark, an Englishwoman who moves to New York to be the paid companion of the wife of one of New York’s richest men. She watches the lives of the Manhattan elite from the periphery, spending her days with a stereotypical poor little rich wife and sets about discovering herself along the way. Ah yes, and it’s a romance novel, so we have the handsome Englishman love interest, as well as a handsome contender from New York, too.
There is a significant amount of backstory to catch up on if one isn’t familiar with the first of the series, Me Before You, or the second, After You.
Quite a few of the characters get no introduction at all, and it takes a while (and an internet search) to put context to many references peppered throughout the book. One doesn’t mind these gaps too much, though, since one is mostly content to just go with the flow and appreciate that all the characters are living their lives and the reader is just catching a glimpse of their stories. There’s a lot of drama in this woman’s life! As another character says to her, “Your life – it’s never quiet, is it, love?”
As a story, it is predictable. The messy, complicated lives of high society families, the travails that beset Lou, and of course, the man she picks in the end. But the story didn’t matter so much because the writing holds one captive.
Jojo Moyes crafts a very engaging book despite the cliches in the story. You can take or leave the romance but the more emotional interactions, the conflicts, the smaller details, are very prettily fleshed out. Like the first time we see Agnes, the high society woman whose companion Lou will be, she is in-between an emotional breakdown, being comforted by her husband, and one can almost visualise the moment as a painting – sharp angles and stark colours against a fuzzy, nondescript background.
As for Lou, she’s an interesting woman, caught between England and New York, sometimes feeling right at home, sometimes very much the outsider, not quite belonging anywhere. She takes a break from her plush life and visits her parents’ house for Christmas, only to see it with new eyes. “…with its twenty-year-old wallpaper, its artwork chosen less for aesthetic reasons than because it had been given by someone nice or covered certain dents in the wall, its sagging three-piece suite, its tiny dining area, where the chairs hit the wall if you pushed them back too far, and a ceiling light that started only a few inches above my father’s head I had thought I might feel comforted at being home. Instead, I felt untethered.“
This story has her finding her path and her place, and does so in adept fashion.
For a romance, the couple doesn’t exactly leap out of the pages with chemistry or even angst, though there is enough story for that. They have their ups and downs, all of which are so predictable that the tension is leeched out. Other couples in the book, especially the most dysfunctional of them, all have much more personality and sizzle.
Where the novel bursts with romance is in its view of New York. The city leaps out from the pages and beckons at the reader. The predominant character is so in love with the city and all its myriad colours and flavours that it’s hard for the reader to not get drawn in. At first, it’s the tourist’s New York (horse-drawn carriages, yellow taxis, impossibly tall buildings), then upper-class Manhattan (designer outfits, Yellow Balls and bitchy women side-eyeing each other) and finally, the gaze of someone who is starting to belong.
There’s an element of Hollywood that runs through the book, including a rush through massive crowds to the top of a building so as to not miss her moment, thanks to a kindly woman who allows her through because “Gotta love a romantic meeting.” Yes, I did say the cliches ran strong in this book.
While this book hardly reinvents the romance wheel, it makes for a comfortable read. And given that fans have followed Lou`s journey through three books, it’s nice to know that she gets her life together at last, character development, closure, man and all.
This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 11 March 2018.