Before I Met You: A Novel

( 9 )

Overview

After her grandmother Arlette’s death, Betty is finally ready to begin her life. She had forfeited university, parties, boyfriends, summer jobs—all the usual preoccupations of a woman her age—in order to care for Arlette in their dilapidated, albeit charming home on the English island of Guernsey. Her will included a beneficiary unknown to Betty and her family, a woman named Clara Pickle who presumably could be found at a London address. Now, having landed on a rather shabby street corner in ’90s Soho, Betty is ...

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Before I Met You: A Novel

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Overview

After her grandmother Arlette’s death, Betty is finally ready to begin her life. She had forfeited university, parties, boyfriends, summer jobs—all the usual preoccupations of a woman her age—in order to care for Arlette in their dilapidated, albeit charming home on the English island of Guernsey. Her will included a beneficiary unknown to Betty and her family, a woman named Clara Pickle who presumably could be found at a London address. Now, having landed on a rather shabby street corner in ’90s Soho, Betty is determined to find the mysterious Clara. She’s ready for whatever life has to throw her way. Or so she thinks . . .

In 1920s bohemian London, Arlette De La Mare is starting her new life in a time of postwar change. Beautiful and charismatic, she is soon drawn into the hedonistic world of the Bright Young People. But two years after her arrival in London, tragedy strikes and she flees back to her childhood home and remains there for the rest of her life.

As Betty navigates the ups and downs of city life and begins working as a nanny for a rock star tabloid magnet, her search for Clara leads her to a man—a stranger to Betty, but someone who meant the world to her grandmother. Will the secrets of Arlette’s past help Betty find her own way to happiness in the present?

A rich detective story and a captivating look at London then and now, Before I Met You is an unforgettable novel about two very different women, separated by seventy years, but united by big hearts and even bigger dreams.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/02/2013
In Jewell's (After the Party) novel, Betty Dean spent her childhood on the Channel Island of Guernsey dreaming of bigger and better things in London, but she stayed there well into her 20s to care for her ailing grandmother, Arlette. When Arlette dies, Betty's family discovers that she has left a large sum of money to a woman named Clara Pickle at a London address. Nobody in the family has heard of Clara, and what's more, Arlette always claimed to hate the big city. Naturally, Betty jumps at the chance go to London in search of Clara. Though she ends up paying too much for her Soho flat and working a menial job, Betty feels like her life is finally beginning. She strikes up a friendship with rock legend Dom Jones—who just happens to be her neighbor—and gets a gig babysitting his children to supplement her income. As clues lead her closer to the mysterious Clara Pickle, Betty starts to uncover a chapter of proper, taciturn Arlette's life that she never imagined possible—complete with a tragic love story. Told in chapters that alternate between 1919–21 and 1995, Jewell unfolds each detail of Arlette's secret past with impeccable timing. Although the final reveal is a little convoluted, Arlette's tragedy juxtaposed with Betty's journey to maturity and stability takes readers to emotional highs and lows alike. (Oct.)
Book Rook Reviews
“Rich, delightful, heartbreaking and a joy to read….Through her skilled storytelling, Jewell has proven to me that she's to London, what Maeve Binchy was to Ireland and Scotland. I highly recommend this book for fans of historical fiction, but also fans featuring beautifully layered, strong coming-of-age stories.”
Examiner.com "Pick of the Month October 2013"
“Unputdownable.”
Shelf Awareness for Readers
“The stories of Lydia, Dean, and Robyn are each engrossing on their own; combined with the over-arching storyline of their father, they make for an irresistible read. Anyone who has ever pondered the nature of family or imagined finding a long-lost sibling will be captivated by The Making of Us.”
Jojo Moyes
“Beautiful, moving, and unputdownable.”
Booklist
“Jewell’s many fans should eagerly embrace this story about two different women living in two different
times whose lives converge in the most unexpected way.... Family dynamics, the search for love and personal meaning, and the simple yet evocative daily motions of each woman keep the pages turning. Sure to be a popular title.”
Sophie Kinsella

“Lisa Jewell’s writing is like a big warm hug, and this book is a touching, insightful, and gripping story which I simply couldn’t put down.”
Juliet Nicolson
“What a delightful novel! I was truly absorbed by Betty and Arlette. A wonderful perspective on the curiosity, confidences and deep affection that can exist between the generations. The story is ingeniously and seamlessly balanced within two different time frames, and the care Lisa Jewell devotes to the sense of place and the detailed fabric of each age gives her book a richness that both charms and moves.”
Shelf Awareness.com

“The stories of Lydia, Dean, and Robyn are each engrossing on their own; combined with the over-arching storyline of their father, they make for an irresistible read. Anyone who has ever pondered the nature of family or imagined finding a long-lost sibling will be captivated by The Making of Us.”
Sara Lawrence
“This is another emotional clever read from Jewell, beautifully written and populated with carefully constructed characters you’ll be rooting for as you race through it.... I couldn’t put it down.”
Marie Claire (UK)
“Lisa Jewell’s latest escapist love story is heartbreakingly good.”
Good Housekeeping (UK)
“GH favourite Lisa Jewell leaves the chick-lit tag firmly behind with Before I Met You, a poignant story about a young woman uncovering her grandmother’s bohemian life in 1920s London - and finding her own place in the world in the process.”
From the Publisher
“Beautiful, moving, and unputdownable.”

“What a delightful novel! I was truly absorbed by Betty and Arlette. A wonderful perspective on the curiosity, confidences and deep affection that can exist between the generations. The story is ingeniously and seamlessly balanced within two different time frames, and the care Lisa Jewell devotes to the sense of place and the detailed fabric of each age gives her book a richness that both charms and moves.”

“This is another emotional clever read from Jewell, beautifully written and populated with carefully constructed characters you’ll be rooting for as you race through it.... I couldn’t put it down.”

“Lisa Jewell’s latest escapist love story is heartbreakingly good.”

“GH favourite Lisa Jewell leaves the chick-lit tag firmly behind with Before I Met You, a poignant story about a young woman uncovering her grandmother’s bohemian life in 1920s London - and finding her own place in the world in the process.”

“The stories of Lydia, Dean, and Robyn are each engrossing on their own; combined with the over-arching storyline of their father, they make for an irresistible read. Anyone who has ever pondered the nature of family or imagined finding a long-lost sibling will be captivated by The Making of Us.”

“An engaging tale of choices made and not made, families lost and families gained, this should appeal to fans of Jewell’s work as well as such authors as Jodi Picoult.”

“Jewell’s moving novel immerses readers in the lives of these unique characters through the universal themes of family and a search for belonging. Jewell has written a compelling and entertaining novel.”

“Filled with heart and humor, this latest from British bestseller Jewell raises all those big questions about identity, family and fitting in.”

“Lisa Jewell’s writing is like a big warm hug, and this book is a touching, insightful, and gripping story which I simply couldn’t put down.”

Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
Who is Clara Pickle? And why has Betty Dean's grandmother left her a large sum of money? British novelist Jewell (After the Party, 2011, etc.) delivers the answers in a drawn-out tale of parallel destinies set in London's Soho. Moving to the island of Guernsey at age 10, Betty Dean meets Arlette Lafolley, her stylish stepgrandmother whom, a decade later, Betty will nurse through the closing chapters of her life. After Arlette dies, Betty learns the older woman has left her a little money, her wonderful vintage clothes and a mystery. The will names a stranger, Clara Pickle, last known at a Soho address, as the recipient of a much larger amount of cash; Betty decides to move to London, find Clara and start her own life. With Betty efficiently established in her new London home, Jewell then sets up the parallel story: Arlette's arrival in the same city in 1919. Arlette's friendships with a portrait painter and a black jazz musician become the subject of Betty's search, narrated in alternating chapters. Betty makes new friends herself, including an attractive DJ/market stall holder and a famous rock musician. Both women are on voyages of discovery, both make mistakes, but whereas Arlette's destiny goes distinctly haywire, Betty not only solves the mystery, but gets her guy as well. A capable romance with fashionable period angles, yet the general impression is perfunctory.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781476702940
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 10/15/2013
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 343,466
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She is the internationally bestselling author of twelve novels, including Before I Met You and The House We Grew Up In. One of the UK’s most talented contemporary novelists, she has sold more than 2 million books in the UK and is published in more than twenty countries. To find out more about Lisa, visit Facebook.com/LisaJewellOfficial, or follow her on Twitter @LisaJewellUK.

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Read an Excerpt

Before I Met You

ONE

1983

The day and, in fact, the rest of Elizabeth Dean’s life, had started at Weymouth at an ungodly hour, continued on to a damp, windswept ferry across the Channel, and culminated in a silent drive across Guernsey and a walk up a long graveled hill to a large house with gray walls and black windows. The house stood tall and wide atop a hill of dense woodland. In front of the house was the sea. Behind the house was nothing.

Elizabeth thought but did not say that the house was clearly haunted and that she would not countenance spending as long as one night in it.

“Elizabeth, this is my mother, Arlette. And Mummy, this is Elizabeth—or Lizzy, as we usually call her.”

“When she’s being good!” Alison, Elizabeth’s mother, interjected.

“Yes,” rejoined her mother’s boyfriend. “When she’s being good. When she’s not being good, she’s plain old Elizabeth.”

Her mother’s boyfriend ruffled Elizabeth’s hair and squeezed her shoulder, and Elizabeth grimaced. She stared at the ground, at the brown and red tessellated tiles beneath her feet, cut and formed into the shapes of stars. She’d known this moment was coming for two weeks, since Christmas Eve, when they’d gotten the call that had spoiled their Christmas Day. Two weeks ago Elizabeth’s mother and her boyfriend had sat her down and explained that his mother, a woman called Arlette Lafolley, a person of whose existence Elizabeth had been blissfully unaware before that moment, had fallen in her house on an island called Guernsey and broken something, and had been advised by her GP that she should have someone living with her.

And so it had been decided, somehow, somewhere, behind some closed door or other, that the solution to this problem was for Elizabeth and her mother to leave the only home that Elizabeth had ever known, a neat redbrick bungalow on the outskirts of Farnham in Surrey, and go to this island to live with this woman for at least, her mother had told her, three months, and to do so within two weeks.

“Elizabeth,” said her mother’s boyfriend, “are you going to say hello?”

Elizabeth tried not to squirm, but it was very hard not to squirm when you were in a haunted house with your mother’s boyfriend’s hand on your shoulder, being introduced to a terrible old woman whose frail bones had conspired to crumble and break and destroy your life. Elizabeth lifted her gaze to the woman in front of her but not before noticing, with some surprise, that the woman was wearing red silk shoes adorned with matching rosettes. Elizabeth’s gaze also took in black lacy tights over shapely calves, then a coat of full, luxuriant mink that hung from throat to mid-shin, and a face, round and elfin, like that of a child, pink lips, pearly blue eyelids, and a matching mink hat. On each earlobe, a small chunk of diamond shone dully in the muted candlelight.

Elizabeth gulped. “Hello,” she said.

The lady in the fur coat paused for a beat and then bowed down so that her head was level with Elizabeth’s and said, “Hello, Elizabeth. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

It was impossible to gauge from her expression whether these things she had heard had been bad or good, but then her face softened and she smiled, and Elizabeth smiled back and said, “I like your shoes.”

Arlette smiled too and said, “Then you have very good taste. Now come in and get warm, I’ve lit the fire.”

Elizabeth and her mother exchanged looks. Elizabeth’s mother had met this woman before, about two years ago, when she and her boyfriend had only just started dating. She had described her then as “colorful” but “mean.” And someone “not to be crossed.” She probably had not thought, as she’d passed these judgments upon her boyfriend’s mother to her daughter, that one day she and her daughter would have cause to come and live with her. And she’d probably forgotten ever saying them. But Elizabeth hadn’t forgotten. She had come to this place with a full armory of attitude and verve, ready to take whatever this lady had to dish up. And then been momentarily thrown by a pair of scarlet silk shoes.

But still, red silk shoes. Even on an old lady, that was rather spectacular. Elizabeth had had to endure all sorts of nonsensical after-school dance classes in order to get her mother to buy her interesting shoes. Slivers of flesh-colored leather with silky ribbons for ballet, and chunky-heeled shoes with buttoning straps for flamenco and jazz. Never anything in red silk. Surely, she thought, surely anyone capable of owning a pair of shoes that magnificent must be halfway decent.

She followed the old lady down the hall and into a room on the left. It was entered by a tall door with an ornately stained window in the fanlight.

“You’ll have to excuse the damp,” said Arlette. “I haven’t opened this room up for quite a while. And it’s too cold to have a window open.”

Elizabeth brought her arms around herself and shuddered. The room was tall and bare, with wood-paneled walls and pointy furniture, and everything was brown apart from a roaring fire in the hearth around which they all huddled on a tapestry-covered ottoman.

The adults were all having a conversation about the journey and about the delivery van and about the weather and about Arlette’s hip (she had walked with a stick and a fairly pronounced limp down the hallway). Elizabeth got to her feet and went to the window. It was leaded and a touch baggy, and framed by dismal gray nets. Through it Elizabeth could see, in all directions, a vast expanse of blankness. She sighed and returned to the fire, the cold of the room seeping into the very marrow of her, the smell of damp firewood and unloved furnishings and cold, cold coldness leaching into everything.

“We’ve got blow heaters coming in the van,” said Jolyon, rubbing his hands together briskly. “We’ll plug them in when they arrive.” He said this to Elizabeth and her mother in a perky, reassuring manner, but it was clear to them that it would require more than two cheap blow heaters to take the chill off this sad old house. “And then,” he continued, somewhat desperately, “I’ll take a look at the heating.”

His mother threw him a disparaging look. “Not necessary,” she said. “The air will warm up pretty quickly over the next few weeks. Remember, we’ve the Gulf Stream here. By the time you’ve worked out how to fix the heating and found someone willing to come and sort it for a sum of money that will not make your eyeballs bleed, it will be summer again. Every room has a fireplace. It’s all a matter of wearing the right clothes. And keeping to just a couple of rooms. And, of course, lots and lots of hot drinks. Warming ourselves up from the inside out.”

Elizabeth stared at Arlette’s furry coat and hat and thought, Well, yes, that is easy for you to say, you are practically wearing a bear.

Elizabeth was put in a room on the first floor that was papered with a green and blue vertical stripe that looked like old men’s pajamas. There were three small leaded windows overlooking the sea. It was even colder up here, and when she breathed out hard, her breath appeared around her like a wraith.

Her bed sat on the side of the room opposite the windows. It was built from some kind of very heavy, darkly veneered wood and covered over with a cheap-looking duvet with a blue case. Atop the two biscuit-thin pillows sat a threadbare blue knitted rabbit that looked like it had been left there to die.

Elizabeth thought of her bed at home. It was queen-size, with a white powder-sprayed metal frame with curly bits in it and knobs made out of clear Perspex. Her mother had bought it for her for her tenth birthday; “a double bed for double figures.” She also had a queen-size duvet, clothed in a white cover embroidered all over with rose sprigs, and a pillowcase trimmed with lace upon which Elizabeth arranged all her teddy bears every morning before she left for school. She’d asked her mum if they could bring the bed, if they could squeeze it into the big van with all their other things, but her mum had smiled apologetically and said, “Sorry, sweetheart, no beds. It’ll still be there when we get back.”

And that had been that.

Elizabeth rested her rucksack on the floor and unzipped it with icy fingers. Inside she felt around for the soothing plush of Katerina’s ears. She tugged at the fabric and pulled her free of the piles of books and games and notepads she’d packed this morning to relieve the boredom of an eight-hour journey. Elizabeth pulled the bear close to her face and breathed in the smell, and she felt her heart ache as the heady, honeyed scent of home filled her senses. With her nose still to the bear, she looked around the cold, Spartan room, she gazed at the endless concrete gray of the sea through the mean little windows, and then she stalked across the room, picked up the ugly knitted rabbit, opened a window, and hurled the thing as far as she could into the cold gray yonder.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2014

    Just finished the book Before I Met You. Very lovely novel. Two

    Just finished the book Before I Met You. Very lovely novel. Two beautiful stories of different generations of young women. Wonderful, easy, well written read. 

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2013

    Two-second recap: In Before I Met You, critically acclaimed auth

    Two-second recap: In Before I Met You, critically acclaimed author Lisa Jewell presents two coming-of-age stories spanning across the 20th century, intertwined in a way that only truly great family dramas can achieve.


    ***

    Full review:

    Ever since I picked up Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends when I was eight, I've had a strong love of British/English/Irish fiction.

    My love has only grown over the years, after studying abroad in London, and actually living in England for several years.

    So when I spotted Lisa Jewell's Before I Met You on Edelweiss, I knew that this was something I wanted to read. It had all of the hallmarks of a great British novel: a historical setting, two diverse female characters, and a London setting.

    Luckily for me, Atria kindly sent me an ARC. After devouring the novel in a day, I've come to the conclusion that Before I Met You is a beautifully painful book, detailing the coming-of-age journeys of two very different women, who learn through trial and error, just who they're meant to be.

    ***


    Things that worked:

    * The characterizations

    Betty and Arlette are two very different women, separate by the decades. However, their journey is universal: they are both young, gifted women who are struggling to find their place in the world.

    After a lifetime of living on an isolated island, Jewell leads Betty to glittering London, to help fulfill her grandmother's final wish. She's eager, determined and hopeful as she starts her journey, but she's also scared and determined to not fail.

    Jewell beautifully paints the uncertainty of a girl who's actually very good at certain things, but just hasn't had the opportunity to shine, and is now terrified that she's going to be relegated back to her old life.

    At the same time, we also see Arlette's teenaged life unfold decades earlier, eventually leading us to just why her final wish has come to be in the first place.

    Arlette is a little more confident than Betty, but also treads into territory that is unprecedented, and doesn't know how to respond - especially as that unprecedented territory develops.

    I'll be honest: I felt almost uncomfortable at times when reading the development of these two girls, because Jewell had dug so deep into the psyches and universal natures of both women, I almost felt like I was reading parts of myself that I've always wanted to remain hidden, and Jewell was shining light onto them for the first time.


    As for the secondary characters - they're rich, delightful, heartbreaking and a joy to read. Jewell has populated her cast with characters who have the type of personalities that almost all readers will recognize in the people in their own lives, and will enrich the reading experience.


    * The exploration of youth

    Jewell approaches the concept of youth differently through the eyes of both women, but still interlinks them together.

    Arlette is young and vivacious as she takes on London, and in her mind, the world is something that will be conquered, even as she experiences set backs. However, she eventually becomes tired of everything she has experienced, and retires to life on the island.

    Betty is the exact opposite. She's already tired of her life, by the time she starts out in London. However, her experiences and her challenges eventually make her become more excited, and more willing to pursue her future.

    I think that readers, particularly women around Arlette and Betty's age, will see a little bit of themselves in both women, and will absolutely relate to them.



    * The painful moments, or the obstacles of life

    Without giving any spoilers away, both Betty and Arlette experience the type of challenges and obstacles that I feel like I don't often seen in contemporary fiction anymore.

    Arlette in particular, experiences a set of painful circumstances that I think would have had any normal person absolutely marveling at her ability to keep calm and carry one.

    I was saddened and extremely upset by what these two women had to go through while reading, but in a way, I was almost grateful to Jewell for putting her characters through these trials.

    She not only humanizes them, but she also reminds the reader that yes, life can be ridiculously tough at times. However, it's what you do with these circumstances that will give you strength to get through it.



    * The ending

    The ending is perfect. That's all I'm going to say, because I insist that all of you read this book immediately.


    ***

    Things that didn't work:

    I thought about it for a good afternoon, and I couldn't think of a thing that didn't work.

    Yes, the journeys of the characters aren't perfect or ideal, by any means. However, the realism of what both women go through is, in my honest opinion, what makes this book great.


    ***

    Final verdict Before I Met You was my first Lisa Jewell book, but it definitely won't be my last. Through her skilled storytelling, Jewell has proven to me that she's to London, what Maeve Binchy was to Ireland and Scotland.

    I highly recommend this book for fans of historical fiction, but also fans featuring beautifully layered, strong coming-of-age stories.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2015

    This is one of those must read books you wish would never end.

    For most children, it is hard to imagine the older adult you are sharing a part of your life with had a life way before you and way better than you could ever imagine. From beginning to end I was wrapped up tightly with both main characters and enjoyed this story in a way that was almost personal, loving that Arlette cultivated in Betty a love of glamor and a thirst for more of that lifestyle and all that goes with it. Enchanting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2015

    Really enjoyed it.

    I found myself really wanting to know what happened to each of the various characters. A little confusing having two male characters in one time period with similar names. Other than that, very enjoyable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2015

    Recommended, especially if you like flashbacks.

    I really enjoyed this book. I like the way it flashed back to a different era & then to the present. The characters stay in your mind, they are so individualistic. I will probably read more of Lisa Jewell's books, like the way she writes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2015

    Two eras and two stories are often difficult to handle in the merge

    This trips over the bend of the two which is often the case not a cozy or chick fic more the ladies soap buska

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2015

    Would hv been better at 250 pages or less

    First few chapters were good, once Betty moved it got boring with unneccessary chapters like the party she has when she has no friends yet. The Asian neighbor who wants to have sex with her, the vendor she finds in her bathroom during the party. Long draw out boring detail like clothing or the snow. I feel that anyone writing a book deserves 3 stars but I found myself scanning pages for the next dialog in order to get back on track.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2015

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2015

    No text was provided for this review.

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