Category Archives: Michael Joseph Publishing

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Assumptions can be dangerous things; you are probably making one about me reviewing this book right now be it good, bad or indifferent. I admit I make them all the time despite the fact that I know I shouldn’t. One such bookish assumption that I know I make often is about books with too much pink on them, I just assume that they will be my cup of tea. Jojo Moyes latest novel ‘Me Before You’ is one such book I had been intrigued by but avoided due to the cover, yet thanks to a roundabout recommendation of it by Damian Barr (and the podcast of his literary salon featuring Jojo Moyes reading from the novel and discussing it) I gave it a whirl! I am so glad I did as it was a wonderful, funny, touching and emotional read and one much darker and deeper than the cover (which I don’t really think has any relation to the book to be honest) would suggest.

Penguin Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 512 pages, borrowed from the library

As ‘Me Before You’ opens we meet Will Traynor, a young, ruthless and successful high flying business man. He makes mega bucks during the week in his office and spends the weekend’s mountain climbing, skiing or biking. That is until, in the opening chapter so I am not giving anything away, he is involved in a tragic accident. Skip forward a few years and we meet Louisa Clarke, your average kind of girl who it still living at home in her mid twenties and who has no aspirations to leave happily working in the local cafe, that is until its closed. She becomes jobless and the prospects are slim, until she takes on a job as the daytime carer/companion for a quadriplegic, Will Traynor.

It could so easily fall into the clichéd story at which you may all be assuming will take a certain twist. Louisa is hapless, clumsy and unsure and Will is edgy, offensive and incredibly frustrated. Neither really wants to be there but that is the way it is and so they both meet in the middle with slightly awkward humour. It is this humour, which had me laughing out loud, that makes the book rather special, you laugh at what you shouldn’t but not in a callous way, because as a reader you really care and you really feel the frustration and anger Will must feel being in his situation and the frustration and emotions of those dealing with Will dealing with himself.

The second genius stroke, which was also quite a risk, is the way the story develops and it might not be the one you would hazard a guess at because Moyes throws in a very big, and controversial, subject as we go on and that is the right to die. How it all works out I will not divulge, I would just urge you to read on and discover as it, I think, is handled beautifully. I should state here that I never felt that Moyes had used the subject to ‘shift copies’ and I think that is something that should be mentioned as I can think of some authors, who will remain nameless, who have happily cashed in on ‘moral dilemmas’ – this is not such a book in case the thought had fleetingly crossed your minds and you are a bit cynical like me.

There are few books which you read where the characters walk off the page and you genuinely feel like you have been spending time with them because they are as real as your mates, the last book I read where I felt like that was ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls. There are also relatively few books which deal with a tough subject or subjects in a truly honest fashion, which encompasses the light and dark, the funny and the heartbreaking, and here Moyes excels again (this interestingly reminded me of ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman). The two combined just make for a really enjoyable, emotional and rewarding read. There are also some slight twists and the like thrown in for good measure but it is the relative normality of the characters and the way they interact, good and bad, which also sets this book apart.

Having listened to Jojo Moyes talking about ‘Me Before You’ she said that it could be ‘a career breaker’ and ‘not an easy sell’ as the subject matter which it covers is a delicate one and, in the wrong writers hands, could offend or patronise people. Thank goodness for Jojo Moyes taking the subject under her wing as with a deft hand she makes this a very human story, one which will have you laughing on one page and quite possibly crying the next (have tissues to hand, advice from someone who didn’t). Ignore the cover, read the book. I did in one sitting.

Who else has read ‘Me Before You’ and what did you think? Has anyone read any of Moyes other books? I know my mother has some of them on her shelves but we have never discussed them, should I be secretly pilfering them next time I visit?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Jojo Moyes, Michael Joseph Publishing, Penguin Books, Review

The Pleasures of Men – Kate Williams

I have dragged my heels about sharing my thoughts about Katie Williams’ debut novel ‘The Pleasures of Men’ and have kept putting it off. I first became aware of the book when it caught my eye in a book shop window. The cover alone suggested this would be a very ‘me’ book; it looked Victorian, gothic and murderous – lovely. The more I found out about it the more I thought I would like it, a neo-Victorian novel written by a historian on the field and with a serial killer. Should have been my perfect read shouldn’t it? Sadly, not so.

Michael Joseph, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Catherine Sorgeuil has moved from the delights of Richmond to London’s East End to live with her uncle under some mysterious circumstances. As she does a series of murders by ‘The Man of Crows’ starts occurring in the East End. As the story goes on the murders become more frequent and more bloody thirsty and Catherine starts to believe, while starting to write her own crime novel, that she has some connection to the murderer and may be able to catch him. We also start to learn bit by bit why Catherine is living with her uncle and her own dark past starts to come to light.

Before I go any further I should stipulate that I wanted to absolutely love this book. It had all the elements that would make a ‘cracking read’ for me. Whilst it did have some moments of brilliance I found myself left very cold by it. I pondered initially if it was the fact that because Catherine as a narrator was so mysterious, and Williams slowly showing and telling all Catherine’s secrets, I didn’t really connect with her, and that I do think was part of it. I also couldn’t initially, and was still left a little non plussed at the end, as to why she became so obsessed with ‘The Man of Crows’ apart from it being Williams way of linking the story of a serial killer with a woman in the Victorian times and discussing the society and women’s place in it at the time.

This leads to Kate Williams main strengths. As a historian she knows the Victorian period and so London during that period does live and breathe. She has chosen the darker seedier side of it which is always fascinating and titillating to read, though it’s also rather disturbing as some of the book is incredibly graphic – a small warning should you avoid books like this. There are some brilliant set pieces with theatres and magicians that are wonderfully realised. Yet there are some pieces, such as a visit to a home for foundlings which seem to simply be there for the sake of showing more society issues, it’s all well and good but haven’t we read this before?

Kate Williams has been compared to Sarah Waters, possibly for the aspect of the story which involves lesbianism in the Victorian period. That to me is where the similarities end. Kate Williams can clearly write, and she is an extremely successful biographer, but ‘The Pleasures of Men’ can fall into over writing. I saw the intent was to make the book have a claustrophobic feel and yet the fact chapters started with ‘my hands were cold, as if they had been buried in damp soil’ or ‘that night my mind burnt with plans and I could not sleep’ and ‘I slammed the door of Princess Street as if I had been chased there by demons’ became overkill. Maybe Williams felt that as Catherine starts to write her own book in the book, or notes of deduction, she felt that Catherine must be a wordy narrator, or maybe as a debut novel she was trying to prove something.

Interestingly though, and to make sure this is a fair assessment of my thoughts on the novel, when Kate writes about the victims of ‘The Man of Crows’ the book excels. These are intermittent chapters in each victim’s life before she meets her untimely end and yet in that single chapter Williams wonderfully evokes their circumstances, thoughts and their back story. I wanted more of this.

Whilst I didn’t love ‘The Pleasures of Men’ I liked some of it and I will be interested to see what Kate Williams does next. With her knowledge of the era I wonder if I should read some of her non-fiction and see how I get along with that. In many ways this book has elements of a very unusual neo-Victorian novel, sadly it didn’t quite grip me but that could be because I had over hyped the book in my head and was so excited about it maybe? If you like novels of this genre, or in that era I would say give it a try, lots of people (like Fleur Fisher, whose review tantalised me all the more) have really enjoyed this. I am still in two minds about it, but I did finish it which says something. I still think the cover is utterly stunning.

Phew, there that’s out there, hopefully if a little negative I have backed my feelings up. Who else has read this and what did you think? Which books have you been really excited about and then have fallen flat, and why? Do you think, as readers, we can over hype a book we are excited about in our heads and therefore almost ruin the experience for ourselves a little? As ever I am interested in your thoughts on all the above questions.

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Filed under Kate Williams, Michael Joseph Publishing, Penguin Books, Review