In this sequel to “Me Before You”, Jojo Moyes deftly deals in grief, trauma, love and moving on. Her characters are charmingly flawed and their extraordinary plights somehow make them feel ordinary and believable. Her protagonist Lou, who is very much in the depths of grief-ridden despair, speaks rather eloquently about her struggles to navigate between delving into her memories and burying them.
“Sometimes I felt as if we were all wading around in grief, reluctant to admit to others how far we were wading or drowning. I wondered fleetingly whether Sam’s reluctance to talk about his wife mirrored my reluctance to discuss Will; the kind of knowledge that the moment you opened the box, let out even a whisper of your sadness, it would mushroom into a cloud that overwhelmed all other conversation.”
As Lou bumbles her way through her feelings loss, the reader also gets a vivid sense of the guilt she feels, not just about her role in her loss but in her strides towards moving on.
In addition to providing the subject of grief with levity, Moyes also deals quite humorously with the topic of feminism and the arising consciousness of a middle-aged, working class woman. Lou’s parents, true characters in their own right, undergo a battle of gender roles and lifelong expectations sparked off by Lou’s sister that has Lou’s father apoplectic and floundering.
“‘She’s trying to tell her I should be doing the cooking and cleaning and making out I’m some fecking caveman. But if I dare to say anything back she keeps telling me to ‘check my privilege.’ Check my privilege! I told her I’d be happy to check it if I knew where the hell your mother had put it. … Your mum was happy, I’m happy. We know what our roles are. I’m the one with hairy legs. She’s the one who fits the rubber gloves. Simple.'”
In my opinion, Moyes dances perilously along the line between “serious” literature and “chick lit”, a genre that is more guilty than pleasure for me. The book-snob in me often begrudges even Moyes’s visual presentation; the picture-less, loopily lettered covers bring to mind cheap grocery store novels ala Danielle Steele. Luckily, Moyes’ pluck and charm keep her from totally being sucked over to the dark side in a manner similar to Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and Allison Pearson’s “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” These are novels that are not destined for history or critical acclaim, but they do bring a certain amount of joy in those times when your brain simply needs a good situational comedy. The dramas are well constructed but not visceral; the readers investment is intellectually and emotionally minimal.
With biting wit and sharp dialogue, all in a modern British vernacular, Moyes creates a story that is compelling and enjoyable, if perhaps on the “easy listening” end of the spectrum.