Review: ‘Foreign Fruit’ by JoJo Moyes

I have to be honest: the first couple of chapters of this book made me think it wasn’t for me.

But then comes the rest, and the realisation that this is something beautiful yet corrupt in the most intriguing way. Moyes does her usual thing with brilliant style: she underplays, doesn’t push too far, and shows the fragility of the human condition.

Lottie is a re1172549al anti-hero: dark, moody, short-tempered, you shouldn’t like her. But you will; she’s hurt and damaged but doesn’t demand sympathy for it. In fact she asks for nothing; she doesn’t know what she wants – it’s what makes her so likeable and relatable. Her actions are that of an uncertain young girl, then young woman, then elderly woman – and the change is palpable when she finally becomes certain of her life right in the closing pages of the book.

The storyline behind Lottie is simplistic yet artfully handled. The complexities of love are nothing new in literature, but Moyes captivates with the constant hopeful tension mixed with a dreadful longing throughout. Guy, for being a critical incident for Lottie, is underused and rightfully so; the enigma element aids the uncertainty and unknowability of what life hands you perfectly. Likewise, although we’re convinced we know, it’s never explicitly stated what Adeline does, or what Celia concocts in her warped version of perfection; we’re left in the simmering tension making our educated guesses throughout, and its this that drives you through the book and leaves you longing for more.

Another honesty moment: the switch to a more present-day scenario halfway through did not sit well with me at first. It took a good couple of chapters for me to come to terms with why this had been done, to show the unending nature of both Lottie’s problem and the problems faced by the new Lotties of the world. It also helped that you ended up rooting
for Daisy in particular; the jilted new mother brought out the fighter in me, and you can’t help but cheer her on as she stops being dull old Daisy and becomes something better than she’d ever been.

So yes, there are a couple of hiccups, but the core of this novel is so strong that the current will wash you away with it before you know what’s happening, and take you from tumultuous waves to safe shores and back again throughout. It’s a brilliant book (albeit with a rather forced title) and another Moyes classic.

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Review: ‘Last Letter From Your Lover’ by Jojo Moyes

I have loved Jojo Moyes ever since I was sent an advanced copy of ‘Me Before You’, which felt like it broke my heart in two. So, having been entranced, I’ve felt the need to work my way through her novels, and the latest one on the list was ‘Last Letter’, the tale of Jennifer Stirling and Anthony O’Hare’s ill-fated affair spanning from the 60s to the present day. It was a touching and sentimental tale, but I have to admit, I don’t think it will become one of my favourites out of Moyes’ books.

The time setting does a lot for the tension of the affair that the book revolves around; they might have been dubbed the swinging sixties, but things were still done a certain way, and breaking from those roles had severe and long-lasting consequences. Enter Jennifer Stirling, a woman who married according to the rules but fell in love despite them. She’s a main character you root for both in terms of her repression as a woman in this time period, and in terms of her clear vitality when around O’Hare; she’s two separate people rolled into one, and you know which one you want to triumph.

Likewise, O’Hare’s change from pompous reporter to fragile man almost beyond his time is perhaps the most touching element across the whole book. He’s emotional without become a sap, generous without being a pushover; a man who knows what he wants, but also (for the most part) knows how to stop himself from jumping over the edge.

I think what stopped me from fully immersing myself in ‘Last Letter’ was that it felt very self-conscious. It was very aware of what it wanted to be, infrequently coming across as pretentious and a bit too desperate to give a moral message throughout. Indeed, reading it on my kindle showed how many of the moral quotations had been highlighted for their seeming significance, and while they did sum up the movement of the story succinctly, they were too frequent to be quite a resounding as they hoped to be.

I think, as well, that bits were left unexplored. Jennifer’s accident and it’s side effects were dealt with initially but tailed off under the weight of the letters. Likewise, hints at Jennifer’s mother knowing something were left, and Laurence (for all his faults, deservedly or undeservedly) bore the brunt of the social responsibility for events. Likewise, Laurence and Clarissa were both concluded in much the same manner, with poor Moira being ignored completely despite the sadness of her own little story, and as such everything felt a bit repetitive.

I also wasn’t a massive fan of Ellie Haworth, a woman who agonised over things that were patently obvious and yet managed to get everything she wanted, removing the reality of Jennifer and Anthony’s bittersweet missing of one another, slipping through one another’s grasps at every turn. It made the tragedy of their loss over the years seem unnecessary and frivolous. I hadn’t invested in the whiny tones of Ellie, and therefore didn’t see her as learning from their story, more that she just fell on her feet, and just like Laurence the deserved or undeserved nature of this is down to the individual reader.

But for all these niggly little faults, ‘Last Letter’ held at its core a love powerful enough to resist decay or harm, something sustaining and beautiful despite the circumstances and decade in which it arose, which is pleasant enough to amble through at one’s leisure.

‘Last Letter’ was a swift movement through tragedy after tragedy with a bittersweet resolution, but it’s political and moral awareness stopped it from becoming a charming insight into human emotions as the other Moyes’ novels have always been. Sometimes repetitive in scenarios and statements, it will not become a repeated read for me, but is worth setting time aside to indulge in this novel just to believe in the restorative power of love, and the belief that memories sustain us rather than drain us.

Preview: ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes

I’ve literally just put this down, and I don’t think anything I can say will do justice to the tumult of emotions this book has made me experience from the beginning.

I’ll admit, I thought I had this book pegged from the outset: girl helps boy realise life is worth living, cliche after cliche. Wrong wrong wrong.

Jojo Moyles has an extraordinary talent: she weaves her characters’ lives seamlessly, making you become part of their lives. Each character comes alive in a truly unique way, helping Moyles to build tension through subtle changes in how they behave and react to each incident.

Will’s story itself is sensitively explored. We are not patronised, neither are we dictated to about how we should feel. Instead, we are given room to make our own decisions, and if we cannot, we can follow those of the character without them impinging on us, except in the intense sadness at the ultimate decision. The complexity of Will’s right to life, the tragedy of his accident and the clash of sadness and anger lead you through this perfectly paced novel to its wonderfully expressed conclusion, which fittingly leaves the end at a new beginning.

Overall, this is a fantastic book, and one I will certainly be recommending as a heartfelt, stunning novel that reminds us how wonderful life can be.

 

(Previewed for Waterstones: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/jojo+moyes/me+before+you/8650354/)