THE journalist JoJo Moyes started writing novels in 2002.
And then, in 2012 came Me Before You.
Featuring Will Traynor, a young quadriplegic intent on ending his life, and Louisa Clark, his unlikely and initially unwilling carer, and JoJo was propelled to fame.
Mourning Will, Louisa Clark is struggling. Estranged from her family, she’s living in a London apartment, working in an Irish bar at an airport, and drinking too much wine. One night she falls from her roof.
Pretty dramatic that. She survives; her fall broken by an awning, but it doesn’t prove the wake-up call you might expect.
After recuperating with the family she’s reunited with, she goes back to her half life.
Then a teenage girl called Lily appears, claiming to be the daughter Will Traynor didn’t know he had.
At first Lou doesn’t want to know, but realising that the troubled 16-year-old has nobody else, she relents.
So starts a rollercoaster of trouble and emotions, as Lou tries to help, even when Lily makes it nigh impossible.
Meanwhile, Lou’s lovable family have problems of their own.
Her Mum, at 56, is striking out as a feminist, and her father isn’t at all impressed. Little has changed for Lou’s sister; an unmarried mother, she’s living at home, trying to eke out a living.
Lou’s father persuades her to attend ‘The Moving-On Circle’, and their weekly meetings punctuate the plot as we get to know the various members from Jake, whose father, shagging away his grief cries after coitus, and Natasha, who is constantly sparring with fellow member William. At first, Louisa feels alien.
‘There was a peculiar scent to grief. It smelt of damp, imperfectly ventilated church halls and poor-quality teabags. It smelt of meals for one and stale cigarettes, smoked hunched against the cold.’
There are issues a plenty in After You.
There’s the abuse and manipulation of a troubled girl; there’s the lack of responsibility shown by parents more intent on their own happiness, and there’s that central theme of grief.
The pace is slow at first, but it picks up when Lou meets a paramedic called Sam.
Through their fluctuating relationship, Moyes introduces thriller elements, as the couple encounter the very seediest environs that London has to offer.
Moyes wrote the screenplay for the upcoming film of Me Before You, and After You might well follow its predecessor to the large screen.
There’s enough action, raw emotion and humour to make that transition, and there are set pieces that seem perfect for adaptation.
I wonder if Moyes had that in mind as she wrote her manuscript.
Whilst it’s a good read, After You is a more contrived book than Me Before You. I was too often aware of the authorial voice.
As Moyes orchestrated her characters through intricate plot lines, a few of the notes didn’t ring true.
There was, almost, a fairytale element to the feelgood ending, which left the ‘good’ characters happy, and the couple of monstrous ones gaining their comeuppance.
As escapism, though, After You is just brilliant.
It plays with the emotions, and has you rooting for Louisa and Sam.
I defy anyone to read until the end without shedding a tear or twenty.
Michael Joseph, €17.99; Kindle, €10.86
Published in The Irish Examiner on 2nd January, 2016
© Sue Leonard. 2016