After You is that difficult second album of the fiction world: a sequel. We all know the pitfalls of a sequel which was not planned from the off: a sudden need to unwrap the neatly wrapped ends of your perfect planned narrative and set it all spinning again.
After You is the sequel to the best-selling and film-adapted Me Before You, reviewed in my previous post. And it’s not as strong as its predecessor. The weakness comes mainly in the plotting, which is fragmented. The second half is a flurry of semi-related climaxes that don’t form a satisfying whole and rely on rather melodramatic devices that are imported rather than integral to the characters, like gang violence and predatory older men. Moyes is at her best in the real, everyday world of her characters and these forays into more remote (but plot-advancing) territory fail to ring true.
It is only in her core strength of characterisation that she gets away with it. Lou, the protagonist, is going through very real difficulties, rather than the somewhat idealised ‘set free to live out her potential’ that the first book indicated. As before, her romance storyline is well-handled – appealing but slightly gritty men with a ring of realism rather than a rose-tinted world. This is needed given the melodrama. Lou’s family remain a great comic device though there and with other characters, Moyes only seems comfortable bringing adults to life. Younger characters – just as rich internally as adults, as books like The Girls show us – are less convincing.
Ultimately there’s not much I can say without giving heavy spoilers to the first book, so I’ll leave it at this: read it if you just need some light fodder and enjoyed the first book. Otherwise, bypass this sequel and head straight to The One Plus One, in my view the best of Moyes – and my next review.