August, 2012

Aug 12

Before I Met You, by Lisa Jewell

It is always a pleasure to read a novel which takes you somewhere new; a country, a city, an era you are not familiar with. It is a wonderful feeling to become so immersed in these unfamiliar settings – brought so skilfully to life by the author’s writing – that you feel you are right there with the characters. Before I Met You is one such novel.

Written in time-slip format, the narrative moves between London in the 1920s and the 1990s. We follow the lives of the beautiful and charismatic Arlette Lafolley and Betty Dean, Arlette’s granddaughter, who leaves her sheltered life in Guernsey to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and embark on a new life in London. As Betty settles into London life, she is driven by the urge to make some sense of her grandmother’s past: who was the mysterious man she had written a letter to and who is Clara Pickle, the benefactor of her grandmother’s will?

I particularly enjoyed the chapters which were set in the 1920s. The style, the glamour, the hedonistic atmosphere is captured brilliantly by the author, drawing you into the life of The Bright Young People and their seductive lives in the underground clubs of Soho. This was an age when women were ladies and jazz musicians had stage names like Sandy Beach and it makes for wonderful reading! The introduction of the characters of the rock star, the market trader and the interesting neighbour who Betty meets in Soho, ensure that the novel remains fresh, fun, and contemporary.

The mystery of Arlette’s life in London and Betty’s determination to discover the secrets of her grandmother’s past give the novel pace and intrigue. There is also plenty of love interest for the romantic die-hards.  The past and the present are interwoven seamlessly – and cleverly – bringing the novel to a satisfying end.

With Before I Met You Lisa Jewell has written a wonderfully atmospheric, entertaining and very touching  novel. It is a novel about first loves and last wishes; about discovering the past and finding a future and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bravo Ms Jewell. More! More!

Before I Met You is published by Century. Find Lisa at or on Twitter @lisajewelluk

Lisa Jewell

Aug 12

The Terrace, by Maria Duffy

The Terrace is Maria Duffy’s second novel and, like her debut Any Dream Will Do, is set in Duffy’s home town of Dublin. However, Duffy is by no means giving us more of the same. WithThe Terrace, she bravely moves into entirely new territory, leaving behind the single-thirty-something angst of her debut’s heroine and taking us into the intriguing lives of the many and varied residents of St Enda’s Terrace.

In essence, The Terrace is about a small, close-knit community who practically live in each other’s homes; a nostalgic look back on days when borrowing a cup of sugar or knocking on the neighbour’s door for some tea and sympathy was the norm. It is also about what happens to those comfortable relationships between friends and neighbours when, as a lottery syndicate, they can’t find their missing – winning – ticket. Add in the fact that a US-based TV company have just arrived in St. Enda’s to make a documentary about the wonderful community spirit in this unique street, and there is already plenty to keep the reader turning the pages.

Through her lead characters of Maggie, Lorraine and camper than camp Marco (whose designer dog, Mimi, deserves a novel all of her own), and with the addition of other characters who all contribute to a strong cast list, Duffy creates some intriguing and realistic personal dilemmas. Essentially, she asks us to consider what we would really find if we could pull back the net curtains on the people we live next door to.  Do we really know these people as well as we think we do? Can we trust the people we see every day of our lives – especially when everyone seems to have a clear motive for wanting to keep the winnings to themselves?

In The Terrace, Duffy demonstrates, once again, her ability to incorporate sharply observed humour into her writing. It is a raw, honest, Dublin wit which those who live there will recognise instantly, and which those who don’t, will appreciate anyway. Duffy also ups the ante from her first novel by writing in the occasional ‘bedroom’ scene. Although not quite ‘Fifty Shades’ territory, I suspect we may see more of this in Duffy’s future novels. There are also some great plot twists thrown into the mix.

Duffy seems to have an uncanny knack of tapping into what’s current with her writing. With Any Dream Will Do it was the phenomenon of Twitter. With The Terrace it is a resurgence of community values – or at least a desire to have a little bit of something which we remember our parents having. This is, therefore, a perfectly timed novel.

Pack The Terrace in your beach bag this summer. It is a great read – full of warmth and humour – and you never know; it may make you think twice about those living on your own street!


The Terrace is published by Hachette Ireland.

Follow Maria on Twitter @mduffywriter or on Facebook

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