I received this book as an advanced review copy from Viking Books. It came at the perfect time, as I still find myself on the couch in recovery from intercostal radiofrequency ablation (a special kind of hell). I finished the book days ago but struggled with what to say. It seems appropriate that the words would finally find me on the book’s U.S. release date.
I read a review that said you definitely need to read Me Before You prior to reading After You. I disagree. It is true that After You picks up where Me Before You leaves off, but it summarizes its predecessor succinctly. If you follow my blog (or even me personally) on anything, you know my Me Before You book review is possibly the most personal thing I have ever written. You know that while Matthew Quick is my favorite author, Me Before You might me by favorite book. You know I truly admire the author Jojo Moyes. (The tweet that she sent me just a month into blogging is still one of the single greatest moments of my life. Exhibit A: I still have the screen shot.)
And while I continue to think of Jojo Moyes as a talented person that I would be incredibly lucky to ever meet, I have to admit that I find this book very separate from Me Before You. While other reviewers will tell you what’s similar about the two (the cast of characters, grief taking the place of illness, etc.), I will offer you what’s different:
- The everyday nature. In Me Before You, I marveled at the way Moyes made everyday realistic events entirely compelling. The lives of the characters enveloped me. In After You, the stories and characters remain interesting and compelling but wholly unbelievable (primarily those tied to the blast from Will’s past).
- The grey area. Actually the title of my Me Before You review. In the prequel, Moyes allows controversy to be central to her story and there is no right or wrong choice – in fact, the heart of the controversy is that there is no right answer. While After You shows different ways individuals handle grief, it seems more on the side of a universal “right” message in which all roads lead to life working itself out.
- Subjectivity and Controversy. As someone who primarily identified with Will Turner, this bullet point is the most important to me. In Me Before You, the reason there are no right answers is that the thematic questions being asked are subjective based on one’s experiences. This was particularly true for Will who held a unique vantage point. In After You, Will and/or his actions are frequently described by all characters as “selfish.” I won’t elaborate too far on this point because I avoid spoilers at all costs, but I will say that while Moyes used her characters to exhibit subjectivity and different points of view in Me Before You, they all seemed to be singing a chorus of similarity on the major controversial issues in After You. (It’s true that Louisa does sort of take on the burden of Will’s point of view in her defensiveness of him, but for the most part she falls in line with the majority opinion.)
- The ellipses. In Me Before You, Moyes exhibits confidence as an author with telling us only a piece, a snapshot of the lives of characters. And then there is the feeling of an ellipses, of wondering what happened, and allowing that feeling to sink in. It was brilliant and daring. In After You, 100% of the problems wrap up neatly by the end. And while I don’t have an epilogue of every character’s future, I don’t much feel any ellipses. The happily ever after feels overt.
The issue, or maybe the core question for those of you thinking of reading it (or desperate to read it, as I was), is whether these differences are positive or negative. And the reality is maybe they are neither: maybe they are just factual differences.If I was not comparing After You to Me Before You, would it be an excellent novel on its own that I would recommend reading? Yes. As a stand alone novel, After You is excellent because Moyes is excellent. Because her writing is excellent. Because she can weave a story of grief and humor together and make it appear effortless. Because I become lost in her pure flawlessness.
I love that I can flip through any section and find a sentence I am in love with: “I lift my head, feel the night breezes, hear the sound of laughter below and the muffled smash of a bottle breaking, see the traffic snaking up toward the city, the endless red stream of taillights, an automotive blood supply.” “Now, when I read newspaper stores about the bank teller who had stolen a fortune, the woman who had killed her child, the sibling who had disappeared, I found myself not shuddering in horror, as I once might have, but wondering instead at the part of the story that hadn’t made it into print.”
I also adore this core theme of the after….just after. To every piece of our lives, whether happy or sad or loved, there is an after. And while our afters are inherently wrapped up in our pasts, that doesn’t make them any less of an after. After You. It reminds me of after all of the people I’ve loved and no longer know, or whom I have lost. While the package in this case felt a little forced in its wrapped happiness, I liked seeing the afters of so many characters. And knowing that, somewhere in their futures, and in ours, lies the continuous after.
But as a follow up to my favorite novel? It pains me to say that I just don’t know about that. I don’t think you need to read Me Before You first – I think After You stands up well on its own two legs. In fact, I hope people flock to it even without having read Me Before You, maybe because I am less happy with the stories and concepts of the two novels intertwined (despite their inherent nature as a prequel and sequel) than I am evaluating two very different excellent books from Moyes. As two separate novels, you can see the way they each hold their own personal beauty. Together, it is hard to overcome the differences with similarities. Either way, After You is without a doubt worth a read. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.