I have never lost a significant other or a child, and I hope I never do. I have seen two of my siblings lose their spouses, and I have seen the aftermath of what losing a child does to families; it is the most gut wrenching and life draining experience that you can experience or observe. It forever changes the people involved, and the world is a little grayer than it was before.
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It is difficult for anybody to think about what their life would be like after losing a loved one. How would you get through each day? Would you move on? How could you move on? This is what Jojo Moyes explores and captures in her follow-up novel to Me Before You, titled After You. The reader is able to feel the grayness that has settled into the lives of those affected by their loss. By the end of the novel, the reader can feel the gray lifting and new color begin seeping back into the lives of the characters.
In Moyes’ first Louisa Clark novel, Me Before You (read my review here), Louisa learns that while she is attempting to entice the man she loves, Will Turner, to want to live, that she is the one who hasn’t been living a full life. At the end of Me Before You, Louisa takes off to travel and to “live life” as she believes Will would approve of, and the reader is filled with hope for Louisa. After You takes place almost exactly a year after Will Turner’s assisted suicide. I found that in many ways, a year following Will’s death, Louisa is worse off then she was before Will.
Louisa believes that she has done what Will challenged her to do. She has traveled around Europe, moved to London after buying her own flat, and left everything that was familiar. Despite all her life changes, the spunky, colorful and talkative Louisa we got to know in Me Before You is gone. She has stopped dressing in her personal colorful style, she has no real relationships or friendships, and she is angry and depressed. Her life consists of working at a bar and coming home and watching television. Again, she is living a life she can just comfortably drift through.
It takes falling off her rooftop garden and being forced to move back in with her parents during her recovery, to force her to start making changes. Louisa finds herself joining a support group and letting an unexpected and troubled adolescent girl into her life, which forces her to see her reality and choose to be proactive in her healing.
After You continues to explore what living really entails, with the added component of learning to live after losing a loved one. Moyes does a terrific job of depicting the process of grief that Louisa, after a year, is floating through. While reading it, I was at first perturbed by the completely different feeling of the book and the altered Louisa. But, as I have known in my own life, losing a loved one changes everything. Although Louisa is still witty and good with people, as she was in the first novel, she is subdued and has more of a quiet demeanor about her. It’s as if she is just going through the motions. I think anyone who has lost someone close to them would be able to identify with that existence.
I appreciated that she brought back Will’s parents, and the reader is able to see how his decision has affected them, as well. His mother is alone, unsociable and severely depressed. Will’s father married his mistress and is expecting a child. He is happy with his new family, but more subdued. The social backlash against Will’s family and Louisa following Will’s suicide has contributed to them not getting the support they needed to process their loss and pain. When Louisa reappears in their life, with an added surprise, you see them begin to have hope and also begin to heal. With both Louisa and Will’s parents, you see the importance of keeping one’s mind and heart open to people and new situations to enable growth and healing.
Another aspect of the novel that I was really struck by is the importance of connecting with people and how those connections and relationships affect your life and happiness. In both novels, Louisa sees many different family types. She sees the rich and privileged families and their issues, and she sees the issues within her own loving, but imperfect family. In addition, you see the relationships she forms with her support group members, her new love interest Sam, and the young troubled teen — the biggest relationship and surprise in the novel.
Just as Will was a catalyst for healing and change for Louisa in Me Before You, and she him, the teenage girl who imposes herself in Louisa’s life also is a catalyst for healing and change for both of them. Louisa has compassion for the girl and a compulsion to help her, and in the meantime, the girl confronts Louisa about her lack of liveliness and drifting behavior.
In both books, I felt an overwhelming desire to make myself more available and open to others. It is the connections and the challenge of challenging individuals that help Louisa move on and force her to see that her sacrifices for others are, in part, because of her fear of facing her own issues. On the other side, Louisa’s love and unselfish commitment to improving the other person’s well-being does just that.
At the conclusion of the novel, the reader is again full of hope for Louisa and everyone in the book. People are healing, and new joys are budding and bringing color and life into a world that was gray and joyless. Louisa’s decision and actions at the end of the novel show her maturity and her healing. She is getting out of her comfort zone and heading out on an adventure, not because of what someone else wanted her to do, but because she wants to see changes in her life. She wants to experience the adventure.
All in all, After You by Jojo Moyes is the unexpected but wonderful conclusion to Louisa Clark’s story that began in the novel Me Before You. I think fans of Me Before You will be thrilled with this book.
Visit Jojo Moyes’ official website.