After You – Jojo Moyes

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8/10. A bit bare for my liking, but gives a nice throwback to Me Before You.

“Lou Clark has lots of questions. Like how it is she’s ended up working in an airport bar, spending every shift watching other people jet off to new places. Or why the flat she’s owned for a year still doesn’t feel like home. Whether her close-knit family can forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago. And will she ever get over the love of her life. What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change. Then, one night, it does. But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for – or just more questions? Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered, safe. Open it and she risks everything. But Lou once made a promise to live. And if she’s going to keep it, she has to invite them in…”

The bar for the follow-up to Me Before You was always going to be high: Jojo Moyes’ first novel about Lou Clark, the small-town, everyday girl who falls in love with the disabled man she’s caring for, before she has to say goodbye to him, broke hearts all over the world (including mine). So I snaffled up a copy of After You as soon as it hit the shelves and started reading it as soon as it was delivered.

It’s safe to say that After You took a different turn to what I was expecting. The novel opens up on Lou, living in London and working in an Irish pub at an airport, and thoroughly disobeying Will’s last instructions before he passed away:

“Don’t think of me too often. I don’t want to think of you getting all maudlin. Just live well. Just live.

Despite taking time off to travel after Will’s death, Lou is now firmly stuck in a life far from the one he hoped for her – made up of long, punishing shifts, bereavement support group sessions, horrible uniforms and scratchy wigs, isolation, alcohol – and absolutely no bright-coloured clothes. Contemplating her life one night looking out over London from the rooftop of the flat she used Will’s money to buy, Lou sees a glimpse of a face and, shocked and startled, she falls off the roof and onto a balcony below, seriously injuring herself. Forced to move back home to recuperate, she’s quickly stifled by the life she used to feel so comfortable in – and her old town, which is now full of far too many painful memories.  Everyone – including Patrick and his new fiance – seems to be moving on, except for her. Until a knock at her door changes her life irrevocably – for the person waiting for her on the other side is oddly familiar and yet entirely strange. With one knock, the Traynor family is back in Lou’s life – a side of the family Lou has never met, or been aware of. Accepting this stranger into her flat opens up a whole new world: every aspect of Lou’s life is questioned, thrown into turmoil and turned completely upside down. But along with the chaos comes the possibility of new love – until that’s threatened to be taken away from her, too.

Just how much more can Lou Clark bear to lose – and stand to gain?

After You was never going to be an easy book to write for Jojo Moyes, and it certainly wasn’t easy to read. Lou’s pain and struggle jumps off the page, making for a bittersweet and truly heart-wrenching read. Opportunity mingles with loss, new love with old ghosts, heartbreak with healing. It’s a rare novelist that can evoke genuine emotions for a fictional character, and I think I speak for a lot of other people when I say that Lou Clark made her way into my heart from the first few pages of Me Before You – and stayed there during After You. This beautifully-written novel gives us much-needed closure whilst granting Lou much-needed new pastures. An utterly absorbing, heart-warming and poignant read – don’t even think about not reading it.

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