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 to 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.
September 17, 2014, 2:20 pm
I always think it interesting when an author tries out a new genre. As my mother in law is a huge fan of Lisa’s chick lit books I’m not too sure she’ll be please to learn of this change.
Great review, alas I don’t think this is one I’ll be borrowing any time soon.
September 17, 2014, 4:27 pm
I’m sorry this one wasn’t better for you, Charlie. The premise sounds good. I am not familiar with the author’s early work.