Charming dose of escapism from queen of the weepy
After the huge success of Me Before You, which last year got the Hollywood treatment, Jojo Moyes returns with her first collection of short stories.
The opening novella, Paris for One, is the real gem here. It follows Nell, a 26-year-old accounts administrator who tends to play it safe - she carefully draws up pro-and-con lists before making so much as a sandwich order at work - until she spontaneously decides to book a weekend getaway for herself and her hopeless boyfriend. Claiming to be "held up" at work, he fails to show up for the Eurostar, and Nell ends up alone in the French capital.
After spilling her wine all over a handsome waiter and being forced to share her hotel room with a pugnacious American, Nell vows to get the first train home. But then, on a whim, she heads to a Frida Kahlo exhibition and finds herself in line with the French waiter from the night before. Fabien, an aspiring author nursing a broken heart, manages to bring Nell out of her shell, and she in turn opens herself up to the excitement of a new city (and a new man).
Moyes is clearly smitten with Paris, and the novella traffics in all the dreamy clichés of the romantic French city. And yet, it's an irresistibly charming tale that whisks you away, and over the course of some 140 pages, Moyes develops a compelling heroine, leaving you wishing the story were longer. This is particularly true once you start into the next story, Between the Tweets, which delivers a bizarre jolt into thriller territory. Set in a detective agency, a Lisbeth Salander-type narrator attempts to solve the mystery of a popular TV presenter who is being harassed on Twitter. Even as one of the weaker stories in the collection, it still zips along thanks to Moyes' witty and engaging writing.
The remaining tales follow a similar formula: an unexpected turn of events leads a woman feeling unfulfilled in her career or relationship to try out a new identity, resulting in either a dramatic overhaul or a greater appreciation for her lot in life.
In Crocodile Shoes, a woman mistakenly ends up with another woman's Louboutin heels and seizes the chance to take on a new persona, while true priorities reveal themselves for a beleaguered wife during a last-minute shopping trip in The Christmas List.
The strongest stories explore how people negotiate relationships after many years. Love in the Afternoon tells the story of a middle-aged woman whose husband surprises her with a hotel stay, and tackles the issue of a couple with children who haven't done things alone for some time and don't know how to act around each other. In A Bird in the Hand, a woman unsatisfied with her partner runs into a past lover at a wedding reception, and what unfolds is a wrenching story of an affair that ended in miscommunication.
The stories may not pack the same emotional punch as Moyes' previous works (which is perhaps unsurprising, considering her most notable work deals with assisted suicide), but they deliver an undeniably enjoyable dose of escapism all the same.