Betty Dean is 10 when she moves to the island of Guernsey to live with Arlette, her mother’s boyfriend’s mother in Lisa Jewell’s Before I Met You. Arlette is in her mid-80s, but still independent, stylish and intimidating. Despite the decades that separate the elderly spitfire and the little girl, they become fast friends. When Arlette’s health deteriorates, it is Betty who remains with her, providing loving care while forgoing college, boyfriends and jobs. Following Arlette’s death, Betty is provided with a small amount of money, a fabulous collection of vintage clothes and a chance to finally start living. A bequest to an unknown and unfound woman named Clara Pickle leaves the family puzzled and Betty determined to track her down. Betty quickly moves to SoHo determined to find the mysterious Ms. Pickle and kick start her life in the process.
In searching for Clara, Betty also uncovers truths about Arlette and herself. Jewell simultaneously shares the stories of two young women coming of age in two very different Londons. Arlette is a beautiful and charismatic shop girl in a post-World War I London awash with artists and free thinkers. She is swept up in the bohemian movement and her friends include an impoverished artist and a jazz musician. In Betty’s London, it is 1995 where jobs are scarce and rent is high. She secures employment at Wendy’s and also becomes nanny to the children of notorious rocker Dom Jones. Both young women are balancing independence and good times with work, others’ expectations and romantic entanglements.
As the story glides between the two women, readers will be absorbed by the intrigue of Clara Pickle and embrace the fun and feisty Arlette and Betty. Jewell masterfully paints the portraits of two appealing young women struggling with genuine problems that transcend time. Forbidden romance, family dynamics and finding one’s self are at the core of this engaging and unforgettable novel of two inspirational women connected by fate.