So, normally I’m not a huge fan of books with sequels. It’s the kind of thing that I feel like if a story is self-contained the way that so many good books are, there is no need for a sequel. Yes, you may wonder about what happens next, but that’s part of the joy of the book is spending that time yourself imagining what will happen to the characters. I’m not saying that series of books are bad – quite the opposite if they’re done well (that is, with a plan and not just written out forever and ever). It’s just so often that a novel is written, it succeeds financially, and there is pressure to continue the story in order to make more money.
This was part of the reason why I was intrigued to read “After You”, which is the sequel to a book I read earlier in the summer, “Me Before You“. If you haven’t read the book, but it sounds familiar, that’s because it was turned into a movie that was released earlier in the summer, and was part of my impetus for reading that first book at all. But I got to the end of that book, and loose ends were tied up. There didn’t seem to be many places the story and characters could go afterwards. I mean, yes, obviously there were lots of places they could go, but I was a little confused about how and why there would be more story to tell.
***SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT***
If you remember, the last book ended with the suicide assisted suicide of Will Traynor. Louisa Clark – who had been his caregiver and nearly his girlfriend – was devastated by it all. But a silver lining of their relationship at the end was that he was a rich man who was able to leave her a good deal of money – enough to change her life and get her out of her small town. So for about a year and a half she travelled and then lived in Paris until what was left was enough to buy herself a small flat in London and start her life over.
But it turns out that these nice things aren’t enough on their own to move on and start really living her life. In a convoluted series of events, she falls off her building, starts attending grief counseling group therapy, starts dating the paramedic who rescued her after her fall, and becomes surrogate mother to the newly appeared, long-lost daughter of Will Traynor. And that’s all stuff that happens in the first third of the book. It gets tidied up at the end, but it’s perhaps too much plot.
What this book does do well is an exploration of grief. Obviously if you’re continuing the story of Lou and Will, it’s after his death, and would have to address it. This is perhaps one of the best and most realistic portrayals of grief I’ve seen in popular fiction. Lou is not comfortable talking about her grief. She’s not sure how to address it when her friend died at his own hand, and after she had only known him for six months. Her grief feels unreasonable to her, and yet it’s taking over her life. She does not easily begin another emotional relationship – we are told early on that she has gone out and slept with a few guys, in an attempt to mask her sadness. And it’s not until the relationship with the paramedic (who is also dealing with some grief of his own) where she feels able to open up and talk about what happened.
I know there are a lot of people over on goodreads who are not super thrilled with this book, because they want it to be a big romantic push towards something the way that “Me Before You” was. Instead, they’re confronted with a more difficult, more intimate, and slightly less ambitious look at the world. It is the kind of book that could stand on it’s own, and perhaps would have been better off if it had been allowed to be that – a book about a woman going through some deeply grieving times and not knowing how to handle them. Perhaps if this book had been allowed to exist without the enormous expectations of its prequel, there would be less backlash and disappointment.
So those are my thoughts. I enjoyed that book, and enjoyed being back in the world that these characters inhabited, but I also think it works well as its own piece. Too often are we told to hold back our emotions and “get over it”, when we are shown in this book that it can take years to get over something that may not have had a comparatively long presence in your life. I like that. And I think it’s the kind of book that someone could read without having read the first, but why would you do that? This sort of cathartic book-grief feels most real and most deep when you have the whole story. But let’s hope that the author has decided that this is it. I’m not sure the world can handle another book that isn’t quite necessary.
Details: After You, by Jojo Moyes. First published 2015 by Pamela Dorman Books.