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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

'Still Me' Me Before You #3 by Jojo Moyes

From the BLURB:

The third Lou Clark novel by Jojo Moyes, following the number one international bestsellers Me Before You and After You.

Lou Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She is hurled into the world of the super-rich Gopniks: Leonard and his much younger second wife, Agnes, and a never-ending array of household staff and hangers-on. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her job and New York life within this privileged world.

Before she knows what's happening, Lou is mixing in New York high society, where she meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past.

In Still Me, as Lou tries to keep the two sides of her world together, she finds herself carrying secrets - not all her own - that cause a catastrophic change in her circumstances. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

‘Still Me’ by British author Jojo Moyes is the third book in what has become her  ‘Me Before You’ series, which began with ‘Me Before You’ and followed up with second book, ‘After You’.

I will fully admit that I have a complicated relationship with these books. I read ‘Me Before You’ in 2012, while on holidays in Sydney – I literally walked into a bookshop and picked up one of the books on a ‘new releases’ table, and dived right in without knowing a fig about the story or author beyond the blurb. I loved it. I cried buckets. I thought about it for days afterwards. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I became aware of ‘Own Voices’ reviewers who were pulling apart the toxicity and ableism in the story, and then really honing in when news of a film adaptation became even more problematic.

That was also part of my reluctance to read second book ‘After You’ – not just because a sequel some four years after the first book was released (and clearly designed to cash-in on the movie coming out) but also because I now had blinkers off to the problems. Thankfully ‘After You’ fully avoided the traps of the first book and leaned into being a universal story of living with grief, and all that that entails – including falling in love again. I really enjoyed it, and given the somewhat cliff-hanger emotional ending I was excited to discover Jojo Moyes bringing a third instalment, ‘Still Me’ – which follows Lou Clark after moving to New York for a new job, and thus beginning her new relationship with paramedic Sam as a long-distance one.

It took me two days to read this, and then on the home stretch I stayed up until 2AM to finish. Now, that’s not necessarily because it was so amazingly brilliant, but because I’m experiencing a slight new year reading malaise and can’t really get started or stuck into anything … until ‘Still Me’ came along.

It is not a brilliant book, and is certainly a pail in comparison to my enjoyable reads of the first and second instalments. But I needed to know how it would all end, because Lou Clark has truly grown on me. Stripey leggings and all.

Lou’s new job in New York (supplied by physical therapist friend Nathan) involves being a companion of sorts to a rich New York wife called Agnes Gopnik, who is struggling to adjust to her role as second wife amidst the glitz, glamour and fundraiser events her husband’s role require she attend. Agnes is also originally from Poland, and missing her family terribly, and part of Lou’s job is to simply provide companionship that she’s not getting from the cold-shoulders of NY’s elite.

While finding her feet as a newbie to New York and adjusting to a very different care-giver role, Lou is also missing her new boyfriend Sam – who she had been with for only a few months, before he urged her to take this job of a lifetime. But there’s every indication that their new relationship can weather the storm of a year apart, considering the extraordinary circumstances that bought them together – Sam grieving his dead sister, Lou grieving for Will Traynor – and then Sam getting gravely injured while out on a job. All of which has seen them fall fast and hard for one another.

The Lou in New York storyline is seriously lacklustre. Agnes Gopnik is a character sadly made of clichés, right down to the Pigeon-English dialogue she spouts. Her story is clearly built up to be something more than I certainly felt, as a reader … and while Moyes tries a do-over with another character to pull on Lou’s heartstrings, this one felt like a slightly maddening U-turn and never quite landed an emotional punch.

I wish we’d gotten more Sam, but predictably the fact that we don’t is kinda the whole point. But I still feel like there’s more to know about him, and there were so many times in the book where (for the sake of an adrenaline injection in the staid story) I wished Lou would lean into confrontation, and tackle situations head-on. The fact that she doesn’t (repeatedly) leaves the novel with a feeling of a held breath, and even by the end I still felt there was a lot left unsaid that needed to be aired if this was to be the last instalment.

The other negative of ‘Still Me’ is the memory of Will Traynor awkwardly shoe-horned in for relevancy. I thought ‘After You’ was going to be a train-wreck, when it was revealed that Will had a surprise love-child, but that storyline worked well. In this book Will’s spectre comes in the form of two or three old letters he wrote during his time in New York, and also – a lookalike American who gives Lou pause. Josh is another awkward shoehorn, but there was some purpose to his presence which was, I thought, to show Lou that had Will never had his accident – he probably would have kept on being an entitled banking prat, who’d have never given her and her wacky style a second-glance.

Ugh. This book was … fine. Hovering somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3. I am at a point now though, where I hope we’ve seen the last of Lou Clark. There’s no part of me that doesn’t think she’ll be just fine, and living a fantastically messy and sparkly life. I’m good now. Let’s be done.


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