Author, Jojo Moyes, has, by now, found her way into the hands of most women’s fiction fans. Her novels, including The Girl You Left Behind and Me Before You, have enjoyed critical acclaim. I have even had someone confess to me that they “have to get home because I am right in the middle of this really good book by Jojo Moyes, and I have to get back to it”. Needless to say, when I was presented with the opportunity to review her latest release (and my first Moyes book), The One Plus One, I did not hesitate to get stuck right in.
Jess is a single mother, struggling to make ends meet after her husband upped and left. In a small English seaside town, she is trying to be both a role-model and the best parent she can be to her daughter and step-son, all the while working two low-end jobs only to, still, barely cover the bills. Her daughter, Tanzie, is a maths prodigy, and lives with her nose permanently stuck in a maths book with Norman, the family dog, at her feet. Her teenaged stepson, Nicky, is forever getting bullied for expressing his individuality.
Then, a chance to turn their lives around presents itself when Tanzie’s maths teacher mentions an upcoming Olympiad, one with a generous prize for the winner. So, Jess piles both children, the dog, suitcases, and bedding into her ex-husband’s car and starts driving to Scotland, only to be pulled over a few miles out of town for having an unlicensed vehicle on the road. It is the kindness of a stranger – a stranger who is offering his help as a means to escape his own complicated life – that gets the family back on the road, and finds them all on an incredible, and unexpected journey.
I was immediately captivated by Moyes’ style of writing. She has a beautiful turn of phrase, one that immediately, and completely draws the reader in. I was delighted to be off to a good start. That was, until I read the set-up for the journey of Jess’ family and a stranger to Scotland (I’ll get my only criticism out of the way first!) Maybe I’m a cynic, but I couldn’t quite believe that a stranger would drive this lot all the way to Aberdeen, in his fancy car at forty miles per hour, no matter how desperate he was to escape his own life. Further, I find it hard to believe that a sensible, single mother would’ve let her children climb into a car with a stranger in the middle of the night, again, no matter how desperate she was.
In spite of this slightly far-fetched plot point, I entirely enjoyed The One Plus One. The novel is expertly written from four different points of view (those of the four characters in the car) and every one of these third person narratives perfectly captures the individual’s qualities and experiences. Tanzie was an utterly gorgeous and delightful character, a complete “braniac”, but still with that endearing and innocent little girl way about her. I was rooting for her all the way – and hoping beyond hope that the world would not destroy her uniqueness in the end. And then there was Nicky, who seemed to just reach out and touch my heart. Perhaps it’s because I lived through a very lost and trying adolescence, perhaps it’s because I recognised teenagers I have known in him, but I could feel Nicky’s angst, and his pain, and the solace he found when he was finally heard.
Jess, our heroine, was a rollercoaster ride. Reading her story, I could feel her enduring strength, her refusal to let life get her down, her perpetual hope and optimism, and her suffering, always just brimming beneath the surface. As I was absorbed into the pages of The One Plus One, I lived Jess’ life vicariously through her, thanks to her incredible authenticity: she was the typical, exhausted, working class mother who is determined that her children will have it better than she did – does – at whatever cost. In the moment that her strength left her – at her breaking point – I felt tears streaming down my cheeks, utterly moved by the raw honesty of her defeat. Then, later, more tears, and, without giving any spoilers away, later, yet, my tears of pain turned to tears of joy…of hope. Now, I should say, It is not often that a book has the power to elicit tears from me, and, in my opinion, therein lies strong evidence of a skilfully written book, one in which I did become entirely invested.
Four characters (okay, five…let’s not forget Norman) in a car, travelling the length of Britain. With each, I felt a connection. In each I felt invested. To me, this is a clear indicator of an incredibly well written women’s fiction novel. The One Plus One is definitely a must-read for any fans of the genre, and for anyone who enjoys a good, sincere, both heart-breaking and heart-warming story.