Review: “The One Plus One” by Jojo Moyes

The One Plus One

Rich is paying every single bill on time without thinking about it. Rich is being able to have a holiday or get through Christmas without having to borrow against January or February. Actually, rich would be just not thinking about money all the bloody time.

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 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 math prodigy, who solves complex equations all day with their huge dog, Norman, at her feet. Her teenage stepson, Nicky, is forever getting beaten up for expressing his individuality.

Then, a chance to turn their lives around presents itself when Tanzie’s math teacher mentions an upcoming Olympiad, all the way up in Aberdeen, with a generous prize for the winner, which will enable Tanzie to go to a good school. So Jess piles them all up in her husband’s barely-working Rolls Royce and starts driving to Scotland only to be stopped a few miles out of town for driving a car without insurance. Here, a relative stranger steps up and offers to drive them to their destination and thus starts a quite incredible and unexpected journey.

Why does Ed Nicholls, Jess’ boss, volunteer to drive an employee he doesn’t even know very well, plus her carsick daughter, moody stepson and flatulent dog, such a distance? Well, Ed has made a few bad decisions of late which has him facing a lot of trouble. Ed has just been done over by an unstable ex-lover. His family is expecting him for a very important lunch across the country. His ex-wife is plaguing him for more money. His lifelong friend and business partner won’t talk to him and Ed is about to be charged with insider trading.

Told from the shifting perspectives of Jess, Ed and the children, Moyes explores a number of issues facing modern western society today, such as the impact of bullying and antisocial behaviour, family breakdown, the slow erosion of community values and the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots. In the given set up, it would have been easy and stereotypical to have a Mr. Rochester-Jane Eyre type relationship develop between Ed and Jess. Instead, Moyes paints her characters more like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy–each equally sharp-witted and neither superior to the other, despite their finances.

Moyes has an unerring sense for the serious as well as for the ridiculous, and The One Plus One shimmers with both unyielding warmth and canny incisiveness. While it captures the desperation exposed by the chasm of income inequality and the horrific aspects of bullying, it also catches the more enchanting elements of life’s rich pageant, from “the magnificence of total strangers”   to that moment when someone first notices the relaxing effect they’re having on another person and experiences the joyful epiphany of realizing that they are exactly where they belong.

This was my first Jojo Moyes novel so I am not going to go on about how this was like (or better than) Me Before You. I will also not compare it to Little Miss Sunshine because that movie annoyed the hell out of me. But I will say that The One Plus One is one of those stories where everything that can go wrong does. But it makes the book all the more hilarious and heartbreaking. All in all, The One Plus One is a likable, not terribly memorable, but a far from simple-minded story.

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