Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell
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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?I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. Find if for your Kindle today for $10.38 (11/8/13).
I feel the need to be very frank and upfront first: The one redeeming quality about this book were the 'flashback' scenes about Arlette, set in the 1920s. I feel this needs to be said first to get it out of the way, the rest of this review will take the long way around to point out this simple fact. Read this statement and check out the 'recommend' for at the end, and you are good to go.
So. 'Before I Met You' is mostly a story about Betty, a Guernsey girl trying to find her way in London in the 1990s. She spent most of her teenage and young adult life taking care of her elderly and dying grandmother, Arlette. Upon Arlette's death, a mysterious beneficiary named Clara Pickle is to inherit a substantial amount of money. Betty sets off to find Clara, and in turn discover more about her late, grumpy grandmother.
As Betty makes her way and begins to taste life, we also get to glimpse Arlette's life, set in the bohemian 1920s of London life. Arlette, as well, is working on finding her own life and discovering who and what she is made of. Betty's boring life of a dingy flat, job flipping burgers, and even the most exciting thing about her: nanny-ing for a rock star, completely pales in comparison to the rock-and-roll lifestyle that Arlette experiences. Arlette is making weird, artsy friends, falling in love with a 'colored' man (giant gasp for that time period!), hitting up the jazz clubs, and running into some huge, disappointing surprises. The mystery of Clara Pickle truly unfolds here. I found myself constantly wanting to skip over boring Betty to jump back into the glitz and glam of her grandmother.
Betty's story is nothing special. She leaves behind her boring island to try and find some glitz and glam of her own. She drinks and smokes a lot, falls into the lap of recently divorced rock star and becomes his childrens' nanny. Along the way she slowly, and quietly falls for a 'normal boring' boy who sells records outside her building. Wow. That sounds a lot cooler than it turned out to be.
This bland coming of age story only served to remind me why I am drifting away from 'adult' fiction. The writing is too arbitrary, too descriptive over silly details trying to pull in all my senses, yet keeping me distanced from the characters. Also, I really stumbled over a lot of the vocabulary. The time period verbiage, the fact that it is a British novel, and the author trying to use 'literary words' made for a lot of stumbling points for me.
Officially rated as 2.5 stars. Recommended for fans of coming of age-esque stories, 1920 jazz age historical love stories, and people who don't mind a slooow read.