After You, by Jojo Moyes - book review: What Louisa did next...

Michael Joseph - £20

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The Independent Culture

Jojo Moyes’s big-hearted, five-million-copy bestseller Me Before You (2012) charted the relationship between quadraplegic Will Trantor and his carer Louisa Clark and made the uncomfortable subject of assisted dying a hot topic of debate for reading groups everywhere.

After You picks up the narrative 18 months later, when Lou has had to flee her home town to get away from the pointing fingers. With Will’s bequest she’s bought a flat in east London, but she’s still not obeying his last piece of advice: to “just live well”. Her bubbly feistiness is gone and she’s stuck in a dead-end job at the City Airport’s naff Irish-themed pub, where she watches the planes come and go, knowing her own life has ground to a halt. At night, she sits out on her roof, drinking white wine, gazing out across the city and getting maudlin.

Grief might seem another theme for a bestselling writer’s “too difficult box”, but Moyes, like her peers David Nicholls and Marian Keyes, possesses the enviable gift of making the reader laugh in the gloomiest of circumstances. 

She’s also not afraid to put a bomb or two under her narrative, thus avoiding a common difficulty with a sequel, which is re-energising everything. Hence, chapter one ends with Louisa falling off the roof. Enter, stage left, two new characters: “Ambulance” Sam, the gorgeous paramedic who disentangles her from the downstairs neighbour’s awning, and Lily, the delinquent 16-year-old who accidentally caused her to fall in the first place. These mismatched strangers, together with the motley crew at the “Moving On” therapy group that Louisa grudgingly attends, help her emerge from the dark place she’s in. Lily, particularly, is splendidly evoked, a poor little rich kid who turns Louisa’s life and property upside down.

Plenty of familiar characters pass through. Lou’s parents, her senile Granddad and sister, Treena, are like a comic chorus with their whacky Irish warmth. Her mother discovers feminism, which leads to some super slapstick drama. Will’s grieving parents, now divorced, have a more serious part to play. And always we feel the absence of Will. 

After You is most of all about Louisa’s journey, a random, bumpy process of accommodation to loss and the fear of starting over. “You live,” Ambulance Sam cries in frustration at her constant shilly-shallying. “And you throw yourself into everything and try not to think about the bruises.” I’m sure there’s room for Book Three – I can’t wait!