Before I Met You
In 1983, young Elizabeth Dean isn’t pleased about moving from her childhood home in Surrey to babysit a recently disabled woman who lives alone in a big house across the Channel in Guernsey. Elizabeth’s mother and her boyfriend insist. With her head down, Elizabeth is brought in to meet Arlette Lafolley. She doesn’t expect to see red shoes, lace stockings and a woman in a fur coat as her gaze travels upwards. Arlette speaks first: “I’m pleased to meet you, Elizabeth.” The child’s only reply is: “I like your shoes.”
Eventually, Elizabeth decides being with Arlette is very glamorous, and she enjoys her marvelous life stories. After Arlette re-christens her “Betty,” life in the big stuffy house becomes an adventure and an education for Betty, who stays and eventually takes care of Arlette as age withers her. One day Betty hears the clock chime and realizes that Arlette is gone. When the will is read, Betty is left some money. There is also a bequest to a “Clara Pickle” who lives in London. No other address. If Clara is not located within one year, the bequest will revert to Betty. Determined to find Clara, Betty finds a small flat in Soho and uses her inheritance to search but stumbles upon clues about Arlette, who also lived in Soho in the 1920s, living a bohemian life amongst musicians and artists.
The novel’s action is mainly in 1990s London, with Betty also meeting musicians and going out drinking with new friends. The story is interesting and well-written, but the overall book feels more weighted in the modern 1990s, rather than a historical novel relating to the 1920s.