Thank you to Penguin Books for sending both Like Family by Paolo Giordano and After You by JoJo Moyes.
Like Family is a slight, wee but beautifully published compact little book that draws your eye immediately (although I read this in e-book format, I’ve seen the hardcopy version). At just under 150 pages, it is easily a story that can be read in one sitting.
Description: When Signora A first enters the narrator’s home, his wife, Nora, is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. First as their maid and nanny, then their confidante, this older woman begins to help her employers negotiate married life, quickly becoming the glue in their small household. She is the steady, maternal influence for both husband and wife, and their son, Emanuele, whom she protects from his parents’ expectations and disappointments. But the family’s delicate fabric comes undone when Signora A is diagnosed with cancer. Moving seamlessly between the past and present, Giordano highlights with remarkable precision the joy of youth and the fleeting nature of time. An elegiac, heartrending, and deeply personal portrait of marriage and the people we choose to call family, this is a jewel of a novel—short, intense, and unforgettable.
This was an enjoyable read, and I completely understood what the author set out to do here – describing the impact of Signora A, or Babette, (as the family called her)the family’s nanny, on their little family of three, and how this little family seems to unravel at the seams following her departure from their home due to illness and later her death (this is not a spoiler, they are attending her funeral in the very first pages).
Signora A truly was the glue that held this family together and they were very dependant upon her, truly seeming to not being able to make any life altering decisions without her input. So, it is a sweet little story about this woman’s much needed and beloved presence in their lives, and the great love they had for her. They do become a rudderless ship without her presence. However, I could never work past my feelings of resentment and disgust towards the narrator of the story. He only ever came across as a selfish, self-absorbed man that whined about Mrs. A’s increasing inability to tend to his family, due to her illness. Mrs. A. has cancer and quickly became unable to tend to the family. Indeed, requiring much care herself – but it did not seem to come from this family. Instead, there are any number of scenes to choose from that demonstrated the narrator’s (and possibly the family’s?) selfishness. Some of the ones that stood out for me: there was the time of their Christmas dinner and Signora A is far too ill and weak to come to their home. The narrator whines about their Christmas now being ruined since she won’t be around to mediate and temper any arguments between his visiting family members. He calls her up seemingly only to complain about it – it was something that set me on edge. I felt it terribly uncaring and selfish of the man! Another time is when A has completed chemotherapy treatments and he’s in her home, checking on her, but more importantly taking stock of the paintings and trinkets he’s cataloguing in his mind to take once she passes. Here I just snorted with great contempt for the man. Therefore, his narration of the story, while you could pick through and see the love and dependence they all developed on their nanny, was far overshadowed by his sense of entitlement and self-absorbed behaviour. I wasn’t sad to end the story and enjoyed that it wasn’t a drawn out one. I’ve seen others write about the cold and dispassionate voice used, and I have to agree and say that really does provide great words to describe the narrator’s voice in Like Family.
Penguin Books fabulously outfitted our book club a few years ago with copies of Me Before You, along with posters and other neat little things about the book. Everyone in our group loved the book and when After You was said to be published, we knew there would be no doubt it was going to be the next choice for our next meeting.
I knew going in that perhaps After You might not be as special as Me Before You, and in the beginning when first reading, I really did feel like the publishers should have just left well enough alone. I was slightly confused about the character I was reading about – she really didn’t seem like the Lou from Me Before You. There was a strong emotional disconnect in those early pages. Compared to Me Before You, where my love and enjoyment in reading Lou’s character was immediate, she took a little more time to grow on me here in After You. Then, as the story progressed, she grew on me a little more with every page turned. At first, after thinking that really Me Before You should have just been left on its own, and a sequel not bothered with, I found that I really did want to read more about how Lou was getting on with her life after Will’s tragically sad death (I still remember all the tissues needed!). Lou is going to be okay, and I enjoyed the story and how it ended. It was very enjoyable in that respect. However, the character of Lily and for most of her storyline I felt it to be fairly ridiculous. I just couldn’t truly get behind reading about Lily’s mother shrugging her shoulders, saying she’s happy to be rid of her 16-year-old daughter without a second thought, and allowing her to run away really with a complete stranger. I thought that too far fetched. Lily’s personality and behaviour as well were things I didn’t particularly enjoy. Overall, it was a good story, and I’m glad to have been able to catch up with Lou, her family and Will’s parents. (But….I think we should have just been left with Me Before You and revel in all the specialness that the book was for so many.) 😉