Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: Before I Met You

By Becky Gulc

Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and has been now for many years, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to review Before I Met You which is now available as a paperback. Here is the synopsis:

London, 1920. Arlette works in Liberty by day, and by night is caught up in a glamorous whirl of parties, clubs, cocktails and jazz. But when tragedy strikes she flees the city, never to return.

Over half a century later, in the grungy mid-’90s, her granddaughter Betty arrives in London. She can’t wait to begin her new life. But before she can do so, she must find the mysterious woman named in her grandmother’s will.
What she doesn’t know is that her search will uncover the heartbreaking secret that changed her grandmother’s life, and might also change hers forever… (Courtesy of

I was instantly captivated by this book, which begins with Betty as a child relocating to Guernsey with her mother to be closer to her stepfather’s frail mother, Arlette. Although they’re not blood relatives, these two characters develop a close bond and this bond is beautifully evident throughout the entire novel even though the bulk of the novel is set in two separate periods of time, the 1920s when Arlette lives in London for a time and the 1990s when Betty also leaves Guernsey to move to London, once Arlette has passed away.

I wouldn’t normally be drawn to books set in the past so when I saw that the narrative was going to switch between two time-periods I was initially a little sceptical as to whether I would warm to Arlette’s story set in the 1920s. I couldn’t have been more wrong, I loved her story instantly, I loved both elements of this dual-narrative equally. Both stories transported me to life in London during the different time periods and I could vividly picture the surroundings and the different characters they both encountered which were aplenty. In particular, having really enjoyed the recent BBC drama, Dancing on the Edge (which followed a Jazz band in London in the 1930’s). It was great that this book also covered the Jazz scene in the early part of the 20th century through Arlette’s social circle and her relationship with one of the musicians.

I thought there was a very intriguing plot behind this story. When Arlette leaves money in her will to a mysterious woman (that even her son has never heard of) that was last known to live in London, Betty sees it as a personal mission to track down the beneficiary and fulfill her grandmother’s will for her. But with just a name and a last known address to go from, this could very well be "mission impossible" for Betty, especially as Arlette claimed she’d never been to London herself.

The story itself captivated me throughout. Arlette’s story and Betty’s discovery of it are cleverly revealed progressively throughout the novel. It was never predictable, with several twists in the story keeping it fresh. It also had its dark and sad moments that left me quite upset as I really felt that I bonded with the characters and wished for their happiness and I was truly transported into their worlds as a fly on the wall.

As always, this is such a well-written novel by Lisa. It’s such a pleasure to read; it oozes sophistication and intrigue. It tells the stories of two young women coming from a small island to experience life in London in two very different time periods so well. I don’t remember reading a book which executes such an effective and interesting dual-narrative as this before and it’s definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Random House UK for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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