Lisa Jewell is a fairly new-to-me author who I’ve enjoyed discovering. Before I Met You lived up to my expectation for a moving family drama.
Betty moves into her stepfather’s mother’s home on a remote English island when she’s a young girl so that they can look after her. Arlette is strong-willed even as her mind is beginning to go. Though there’s no blood tie, Betty and Arlette hit it off right away. In fact, once Betty is out of college, her mother and stepfather move out, and offer to get nursing care for Arlette in her last months, so that Betty can start her own life, but she can’t imagine doing that. She stays with her until the end.
When she dies, she leaves her fabulous vintage clothes and jewelry to Betty along with a small amount of money. She leaves the majority of her money to a woman named Clara Pickle, stipulating that if they don’t find her in 6 months, Betty will get the money. There are a few clues, so Betty goes off to London to try to find her. Betty finds pictures of Arlette as a young girl in the 20’s, posing with a Black jazz trio. That and a program gives Betty a trail to follow, if not to find out who Clara is, at least to find out more about Arlette.
The narrative switches back and forth between Arlette’s life in the 20’s, doing such unexpected things as posing for a painter, and living it up, to Betty’s life trying to make ends meet. She works at a fast food restaurant, deals with quirky neighbors, and gets to know the record seller out front. She also spies on a famous musician in an apartment across the way and ends up working as his nanny.
The story is moving and unexpected. I was pulled along as Betty and Arlette find out who they are and what they are made of, living lives 70 years apart.