I’m writing this review as part of Love Triangles 101, the blogger event hosted by Paola and Alix over at A Novel Idea.
(Image borrowed from Waterstones.com)
Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell tells the story of two young girls from the Channel Islands making their way in London. The first is Arlette, a shop-girl from the 1920’s experimenting with the new fashions and ideas that surround her. The other is Betty, Arlette’s granddaughter, on a mission to track down a mystery beneficiary in her grandmother’s will. This book seems like the perfect on to focus on for LT101, as each leading lady gets embroiled in at least one love triangle at some point.
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, then you’ll know that a sprinkling of historical fiction is a particular guilty pleasure of mine, and nothing seems quite so fabulous as the flapper age. Arlette introduces us to a world of Sidecars and cigarette smoke, jazz clubs and artists, all providing a contrast to the slightly grungy world of Betty’s 1990’s Soho. The detailing is impeccable, which is a big issue for me. I like to believe that the novels I read could be true, so if an author researches the minutiae I’m generally a happy bunny.
One of the pro’s of having two parallel stories in a book, especially when those two stories are set in different periods, is that we can see a much wider range of issues. Love triangles have a tendency to be quite generic, so it’s good to be shown a more varied perspective. Arlette for example, is affected by the strict gender stereotypes and racial prejudices of the early 20th century. Her side of the story is also quite heavily influenced by ‘what people think’ and ‘doing the right thing’. Betty, on the other hand, has no such inhibitions. She exemplifies the freedom given to us nowadays, and acts purely on ‘want’. The two separate narratives also give the author a bit more space to explore the characters, I’ve come across literary relationships that have too much crammed into them many a time, but the ones in Before I Met You are allowed to be much more real.
Now, about those love triangles. Betty’s is fairly straightforward. We have a young, strapped-for-cash girl faced with a choice between a Don Juan-esque rockstar who is willing to offer her the future she dreams of, or a grubby, caustic market vendor. I’m not in the business of spoilers, so I’m not going to give the game away, but I found this one pretty easy to predict at the start. However, as you got deeper and deeper into the novel it became increasingly less clear who she was going to pick, if any. A book that makes you question yourself is a good book.
Arlette’s triangle was less of a triangle, and more of a mobile octagon. For the bulk of the story, we don’t know who the main point of the triangle are. Is it Arlette, one her friends and Godfrey? Is it Arlette, Godfrey and Gideon? Is it Arlette, Godfrey and the mystery woman? Is it Arlette, Godfrey and her future husband? Is it Arlette, Gideon and his future wife? This is the kind of love triangle that gets top marks from me. The one that not only provides multiple scenarios and a slowly revealed climax, but actually makes you change your mind… and then once you’ve settled on your dream couple you’re presented with the very real possibility that they might just not end up together… Emotionally wrenching, to say in the least.
Both of these stories are equally compelling, and they are quite seamlessly woven together. Neither of the love triangles involved are too obvious, neither involves a stunning, perfect girl picking between a nice dependable guy (or werewolf) and a dangerous bad boy (or vampire). External factors get taken into account in such a way that you can actually believe in these characters, and you can’t help but genuinely feel for them. I feel that I should also mention that the love stories are not the main focus of the plot, they just add an extra sparkle of human interest.
So have you come across any good love triangles recently? Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Love Triangle 101 posts, click here to see the schedule.