Before the time.
Publisher: Century (Random House)
First Published: 19th July 2012
Date Reviewed: 16th September 2014
Betty lived with and looked after her step-grandmother during her early twenties. Now its time to move on. Armed with a few clues from the awesome older woman, Betty takes on the task of tracking down the mysterious inheritor of most of Arlette’s wealth. Back in the 1920s, Arlette made a series of choices and it’s up to Betty to find out what it all means.
Before I Met You marks a step in a new direction for Jewell, ending her run of chick-lit titles and looking towards something more literary. Featuring a dual plot line and the addition of history, the novel is a fair step if not particularly successful.
Jewell seems to be aiming for a more literary style of writing. It is more literary, however it’s still similar her chick-lit work and is thus likely to suit past readers rather than those looking for lovely language. But it does fill a gap in the market, making a case for dual plot line fiction that isn’t literary fiction.
Along with these changes are growing pains, so to speak. The editing could be better, there are research errors, and the book is far too long. The historical section being somewhat predictable means that the extra chapters (that one can assume are there to further the change in genre) are superfluous. There are also many occasions where, almost oddly, a little more ‘telling’ would’ve been excellent, as the narrative jumps, sometimes weeks into the future, wherein given the previous scenes an update would have been useful. Betty’s sudden interest in a pop star she doesn’t have any interest in signals a bit of a character hole, as do many of her other decisions.
What’s better is Arlette’s story, her journey. Although we read mostly about 21 year old Arlette, Jewell introduces the 90 year old well enough and for long enough that the jump in time here isn’t so ‘bad’. It may be that the young and old versions of the character don’t match but this makes senses and it means that instead of throwing the reader into the story of someone they will never meet except in hindsight, there is reason to read about Arlette. You even get a good idea of where it ends (this is different to the predictability, showing you how Arlette ends up later on rather than at the end of Betty’s search).
Good too is the historical information. A lot is fictional however it is akin to reality enough to be of interest. Jewell slots in a few references to the beginnings of racial tolerance and interracial relationship tolerance (though forgets sometimes other places where it would have cropped up), as well as discussions of the impact of war upon the youth at home, the way war changed perceptions and goals. The tolerance/intolerance especially is written well, being rather quiet as befits the particular situation but no less problematic. And of course Jewell deals with the difference between life on a small island and in a big capital city.
It’s safe to say that Betty’s story, away from her search, resides fully in chick-lit territory. She may not be quite the same as Jewell’s previous heroines, but she is definitely in the same boat, as are those around her. She smokes, she meets various men, she has her moments of wonder. Jewell may have taken a new road, but she wants her fans to follow her along it.
Before I Met You is a mix; a mix of genres, a mix of good and bad. The few too many plot threads, the development, and the random changes in character (Betty isn’t the only one who sees sudden personality changes) do mean it may take a while to get through the book. If you’re already a fan or looking for that non-literary dual plot line, you might want to give it a go, otherwise there’s nothing here that can’t be found to greater success elsewhere.
Mompesson is small house, at least compared to other houses open to the public, but it’s worth a visit if you’re in Salisbury and have a bit of time on your hands. It’s located on the green just in front of the cathedral grounds, the grey house in the photo, and is quite pretty. I haven’t seen the film, but apparently it was used in the 1995 version of Sense And Sensibility.
Which historical places have you visited recently?
This photograph was taken by Stu Spivack.
Happy Friday! It’s been a while, but here we go in 4… 3… 2… no, just number #4.
On responding to negative reviews, this author spent just a bit too much time.
The way publishers are watching stats and too many requests for books? It’s happening in the fashion world, too.
Have you met the cousin of the bagel? You may soon.
Lastly, here’s Kim’s discussion of blogging for books versus blogging because of books. It’s a good one.
What has piqued your interest on the Internet lately? And should I add more links to these posts in future?
This photograph was taken by Tambako The Jaguar.
This post is brought to you by a cycle of reading slumps. A cycle that has lasted a long time, or at least a long time by book blogging standards. I have had short bursts of interest; I’m having to force myself to read (I know, the advice is to wait it out, but I tried that).
I’ve come to the conclusion that I, we, everyone, can bring reading slumps on by reading lots to make up for a previous slump. It’s understandable that once we’ve got over a slump we’re going to want to try to make up for lost time, and the passion for reading returns. But if too much of a good thing can cause a slump, then it surely applies to the recovery period, too.
Which is really annoying.
The thing is, it’s difficult to achieve a balance when, post-slump, all you want to do is read. Everything is vying for your attention. You don’t necessarily start trying to cram in every book but it suddenly becomes a lot easier to move on to another book after a chapter or two than it is normally. You aren’t abandoning these books, per se, you’re enjoying them – but oh there’s that book I would’ve read if not for the slump and it looks awesome… oh and even if it wouldn’t usually phase me I wasn’t keen on that sentence just then and that’s good enough reason to add another book and…
I suppose I worry that trying to adhere to balance, which is technically forced reading which is exactly what prolongs a slump and is thus best avoided, is actually what would help. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Of course guilt comes into this, the thought that you should have been reading, or that you should have read such and such, ARC or not. And I know we shouldn’t feel guilty but somewhere there’s going to be at least a little regret.
I have two questions for you to answer and a request for you to fulfil if you can and wish to:
Questions: Do you ever suffer from continual slumps? Have you worked out a way to combat them?
My request is for a book or list of books that you reckon would push a reader past a slump. A very good book that has broad appeal, thus the answer to many different people’s slumps. If you could share this post (so there are more suggestions) I’d be very grateful!
On Friday afternoon I made my way to Highgate, London, to attend the book launch for Meike Ziervogel’s (of Peirene Press) Clara’s Daughter. The launch took place at the Highgate Scientific and Literary Institution, a lovely building where we could gather for drinks and a natter in an anti-room before going through for the event itself. Highgate is where the book is set so it was a particularly appropriate venue. The launch comprised a couple of readings and an interview with Isabel Wolff (author of A Vintage Affair). It was a wonderful evening.
We began with a reading and then Ziervogel spoke about the background to the story. Clara’s Daughter is 30,000 words, however prior to this, 80,000 words about Michele had been written. When the author set out to write the book she had one image in mind – a woman, who had it all, standing outside on the street with a plastic bag (the bag didn’t contain a dead husband). 80,000 words were spent on this woman walking around the street, having affairs. It took those words before Ziervogel realised the woman was actually in the house, was supposed to be in the house. And when Clara ‘arrived’, she wondered what it would take for said character to move out of the basement. The author said later that it was boring, she was bored writing the string of encounters and so readers would be bored reading it – but by writing those words she got to something that worked.
Ziervogel also spoke of playing with the subconscious, how two of the characters are in harmony in this way but neither one can tell what they need. This was a particularly interesting point when you consider the way one of the characters slowly turns from not liking the other as much, to understanding her a lot more. And this has to be the best inspiration story I’ve heard so far – part of the plot arose from the author falling into the lake. Wolff pointed out that the lake was a symbol of rebirth which I must admit I hadn’t thought of previously.
A group of us went to Peirene’s HQ afterwards for a bite to eat (I had water in a jam jar which was pretty different) and a further chance to chat. It was a pleasure talking to those I met and learning about book printing, book indexes, and editing in the world of publishing houses.
I hopped on the last train just in time. The driver greeting you with ‘good morning’ when you’re day has yet to finish is very strange.