Jojo Moyes is probably best known for her contemporary trilogy featuring the irrepressible Lou Clark: Me Before You, After You and Still Me-the first has sold over 14 million copies worldwide-but she began her career writing historical fiction so this is a return rather than a new direction.
The Giver of Stars opens in 1937 in the small town of Baileyville in the Appalachian mountains of rural Kentucky. Among the townsfolk is Englishwoman Alice Wright, who was swept off her feet by an American mine owner but is finding her new life just as stultifying as the English suburbs she left behind. Impulsively, she joins a new band of women who will deliver library books on horseback every week to the isolated families who live in the mountains. She meets Margery O'Hare, who has no care for society's restrictions on women's lives.
Inspired by a true story, what follows is an immersive read about female friendship and solidarity in perilous circumstances which run the gamut from tacit disapproval to domestic violence. Funny, heartbreaking and unputdownable: this is her best yet.
Moyes writes with warmth and intelligence, and provides beautiful descriptions of the wild, rugged Appalachian landscape. The most appealing thing about The Giver of Stars, however, is her wonderful way with romance — in this case two romances. Margery is in love with the miner Sven, but her brutal childhood has made her terrified of losing her freedom. Alice is still shackled to Bennett, and knows so little about sex that she barely understands her feelings for Frederick, another lonely victim of a failed marriage (Marie Stopes makes a timely appearance). Delightful.
Excellent as Moyes is on punchy character and setting, however, her evocation of period feels less precise: lovable Alice, in particular, often feels more a projection of the Edwardian than the interwar world. This, though, does not detract from an entertaining, immersive and moving read. The Giver of Stars is rip-roaring popular fiction, in which eyes meet furtively and bodies touch tremulously. But it is also a novel that celebrates education, intellectual curiosity and, above all, books and the knowledge, comfort, company and power that they can bring.
There’s more than a touch of To Kill A Mockingbird about it all, and when Marge ends up in jail on a murder charge, things hit a dramatic peak.
Intensely moving and crammed with romance and emotion, this is a full-pack-of-tissues novel.
A change in direction for Me Before You bestseller Jojo Moyes: a thrilling tale of derring-do and murder set in Kentucky during the Great Depression. Already regretting her marriage to a wealthy coal baron's son, Alice finds freedom and friendship when she signs up to become one of the Horseback Librarians Of Kentucky. But her domineering father-in-law is determined to put Alice in her place.