Friday, April 26, 2013

Before I Met You – Lisa Jewell



Ten-year old Elizabeth has her life thrown into turmoil when she, her mother and stepfather pack their bags and head from their bungalow in Surrey to a run-down, rambling, damp old house on top of a cliff in Guernsey. They have come to look after her stepfather’s mother, the formidable, eighty-four year old, Arlette, who has taken a fall and is in need of help. When the two meet for the first time, Elizabeth is determined to be miserable and uncooperative, but notices, as she looks down, Arlette is wearing red silk shoes with matching rosette’s which takes her by surprise. When they are introduced, the first thing Elizabeth can say is “I like your shoes” and from that moment on they fall in love with each other. A little later, after Elizabeth has been living there a while, Arlette says:

“…..And now here you are. In my home. And I have to say. From the first time I saw you, I liked you very much.’ Arlette smiled then and appraised Elizabeth with twinkling eyes. “I’d like to call you Betty, if I may?”

“Betty?”

“Yes. In my day if you were Elizabeth, you were Betty. Or Bet. But Betty was more popular. And I don’t know, you just look like a Betty to me”………

More than a decade later, Betty, now in her early twenties, has become Arlette’s sole carer after she succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Determined to be there at the end, she nurses and soothes her grandmother through the terrors of her illness during sleepless nights, until one morning she finds herself waking up after 9 a.m. with no interruptions. The moment she looks at the clock she knows Arlette has gone.

In her will Arlette has left the house to her son, and all her wardrobe, including her mink coat and jewellery to Betty, plus one thousand pounds. The rest of her considerable, albeit, diminished estate has been left to a mysterious woman called Clara Pickle, last known at an address in London. In all her years living with and looking after Arlette, Betty has never heard her mention the name and nobody else has heard of her either. Jumping at the chance to be free of Guernsey, Betty volunteers to head to London in search of Clara. The mystery deepens when Betty unwraps the mink coat and finds folded inside it an old children’s story book with an inscription, in Arlette’s handwriting:

To Little Miss Pickle
I do hope you will be a glad girl
Yours eternally,
Arlette Lafolley


When Betty arrives in London she is determined to find out as much as she can about her grandmother’s earlier years and when it transpires that Arlette had been living in London during the early 1920’s and was a trendsetter of the time, the story divides into two versions of the mystery; one told in the 1990’s by Betty as she uncovers the truth and one in the 1920’s by Arlette as we find out more about her and her trendy friends who are trailblazing through night clubs and jazz orchestra’s as they go.

This is a story of a girl’s devotion to her grandmother as she cares for her and is determined to uncover the mystery she has left behind. It is also the story of young Arlette in the 1920’s and Betty in the mid 1990’s, both hailing from Guernsey, trying to establish themselves and settle into life in London. After Arlette dies their stories run side by side throughout the rest of the book and sometimes even run parallel to each other. As the reader hears Arlette's story directly they are always one step ahead of Betty as she tries to find Clara Pickle and learn more about the young woman her grandmother was.

It is a lovely book and I was instantly drawn to Betty and her story, although it took me a little longer to feel the same about Arlette and her story, however, within no time of travelling back to the 1920’s I was with her all the way. The story is amusing, poignant, interesting and offers a tantalising glimpse into the life of a young, independent woman living the high life as one of the Bright Young People of 1920’s London. It also offers a little insight into the domestic life of a modern day 90's rock star, but, I will let Betty tell you about that!

I have read three other Lisa Jewell books and I believe this one is possibly the best, although I did love The Truth about Melody Browne which definitely runs a close second. Lisa Jewel offers her readers more than just the usual chick-lit romances (although there is nothing really wrong with some of those). Her stories are about believable people in real situations whose life doesn’t always turn out how they expect it to. This book leaves an impression and is memorable after it is finished. I will definitely read it again and can highly recommend it.

9.8/10

2 comments:

  1. I love Lisa Jewell, glad you enjoyed this one!

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  2. Thanks Dot, I love Lisa Jewell too.

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