One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
This book is exactly what I was hoping for from a Jojo Moyes novel: emotionally poignant, heart warming and heartbreaking by turns, with relatable, believable characters. It is, at its heart, a romance novel.
Jess, the female protagonist, is kind of manic, the sort of woman who seems to have limitless energy because only through limitless energy can she keep her head above water. She has a daughter named Tansy who is a math prodigy and a stepson named Nicky who is the teenage son of her ex-husband. They also have a huge, disgusting dog named Norman.
Ed is the male protagonist, a ridiculously wealthy man who’s depressed because he has just been accused of insider trading–which he in fact did. He’s desperately feeling sorry for himself and is busy drinking himself silly when he meets Jess, who happens to be the cleaner hired to take care of his swanky beach cottage and a barmaid at the only real bar in town where Ed drinks himself blotto during his self-imposed beach exile.
The plot happens somewhat implausibly when Ed sees Jess and her kids on the side of the road in a broken-down car on their way to Scotland to do a maths Olympiad so that Tansy can win the money to make up the rest of the tuition for a fancy private school. Ed, who has a thing for damsels in distress, gives them a ride home and then offers to drive them to Scotland. He has cause to regret that when it turns out that Norman drools constantly and smells bad and that Tansy vomits if they drive more than 40 miles an hour. I think that’s implausible. I’ve heard of carsickness, but it’s not about speed, generally, it’s usually about twisty roads and not being able to see. But it made for a funny story, so I let it go.
Jess is the best thing about this novel. She’s plucky and resourceful, yet flawed. Her motivations for taking care of Nicky, a child who isn’t hers, is a desire to overcome her own loveless childhood. Her motivation for not hounding Marty (the kids’ father) for support is that she feels bad for him because he’s depressed and unemployed. She’s the kind of person who really doesn’t like to ask for or receive help, even when she so clearly needs it. This makes for interesting tension between her and Ed. Ed wants to feel needed and wants to help people, but has also been burned badly by this character trait of his. He’s a bit of a coward when it comes to having difficult conversations or dealing with unhappy people.
Even though this is a character-driven novel and their relationship and budding romance is the main crux, there are plenty of external conflicts to drive interest in the story. For example, there’s the sheer logistics of driving slowly on back roads across the length of a country with a giant smelly dog. There’s Ed’s impending trial and the luncheon of his parents’ which Ed keeps begging off. Nicky has been bullied by the wicked Fisher boys, and fears that they will come after his little sister next. Plus the unending specter of poverty looms over all of them. There’s never enough money for anything, no matter how they scrimp. Marty even comes into the picture later on, showing his own character flaws in a way that refines the relationship between Ed and Jess.
Were there problems with this? Yes. Ed is not a particularly loveable guy. He wants to be, but his cowardice in facing his parents makes him seem like the most selfishly spineless of men. But you want him to be likeable. You want him to save and be saved by Jess. I cried so much listening to this, hoping they’d get together again, hoping that Tansy would get to go to St. Anne’s, that Nicky would find some supportive friends. There are so many plot twists that Moyes kept me wondering to the very end if it would all work out. I found the ending very satisfying and it gave me a happy glow that turned my mood brighter.
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Book Review: One Plus One
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes