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A Plucky English Heroine Amid New York's Super-Rich In 'Still Me'

Jan 28, 2018

In the 2012 best-selling novel Me Before You, an idealistic young Englishwoman named Louisa Clark becomes the caretaker of a wealthy businessman left paralyzed from a motorcycle accident. They fall in love. Then tragedy strikes, and Louisa is left to pick up the pieces.

The story was a breakout hit for journalist and author Jojo Moyes. She wrote a screenplay for a 2016 film adaptation of Me Before You, which starred Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, and a sequel called After You, where Louisa finds love after loss. Now, her protagonist's story continues in the upcoming novel Still Me.

The new book is set in New York City, where Louisa goes to work for a very wealthy man and his much younger second wife, all the while trying to maintain her long-distance relationship with Ambulance Sam and dealing with a new suitor — one who resembles the first great love of her life.


Interview Highlights

On how women struggle in an upper-class environment

My husband is always amazed by the subtlety of the ways that women can put each other down. It's like a language — it's like a dog whistle. You know, only dogs can hear it — well, only women can hear these subtle put-downs. ... He says, "Well, she was just being helpful." And I go, "Yeah ..."

In general, the book is about women actually supporting each other, but I do think in those very rarefied strata, there is a kind of inherent competitiveness and suspicion of newcomers. And that's what Agnes finds — that although she adores this new husband of hers, and from the outside, her life looks like a fairy tale, from the inside, it's a very different story. She's not accepted by rest of the family, she's not accepted by the new social circle that she finds herself in, and she's also alienated from her old social circle because her problems are all luxury problems, as far as they can see.

On researching the world of the super-wealthy

I like, as an ex-journalist, to try, as far as possible, to actually step into the shoes of the kind of people that I write about. It's really about the blood flow around those [Manhattan apartment] buildings as well ... and that's what really fascinated me — I wanted the building to be as much of a character as the people themselves.

The really fundamental difference is this thing of living life under observation. Your home might be a home, but it's also a workplace for many people around you. And there's a sort of cognitive dissonance involved when you have to pretend that the people working for you are not observing your own life, you know? They're all going to have opinions about how you live it, and they're all going to talk to each other. But the super-rich, the really wealthy, just kind of have to live lives that pretend that that's not happening, and there's an inherent tension in that that I find really interesting as a writer.

On writing about romance between people in different social class situations

I think to write interestingly about love and romance, you need tension running through a story. And for me, the really interesting tension in modern life is about the haves and the have-nots. You know, we live in an increasingly polarized society, and when you're in somewhere like on Fifth Avenue, it becomes really, really blatant. From the doorman that you pass on the street to the people getting into the limos outside, it's almost its most naked form. And that I find fascinating.

On the future of the Louisa Clark series of books

You know, I think this is it. I'm really sad to say that because I love writing her, and she's a very easy character for me to write, because I feel like I inhabit her very — very easily. But I don't want people to get bored of her. So the only way I might revisit her – or to sort of stop myself getting sad about it – is maybe to do a short story sometime in the future. But I think as far as long-form goes, this might be the end.

Denise Guerra and Martha Ann Overland produced and edited this story for broadcast, and Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the 2012 best-selling novel "Me Before You," an idealistic, young English woman named Louisa Clark becomes the caretaker of a wealthy businessman left paralyzed from a motorcycle accident. They fall in love. Then tragedy strikes. Louisa is left to pick up the pieces. The story was a breakout hit for journalist and author Jojo Moyes. Not only did she write a sequel but also the screenplay for the 2016 film "Me Before You," which starred Emilia Clarke from "Game Of Thrones." Now Louisa's story continues in the upcoming novel "Still Me." Author Jojo Moyes is here to tell us more about it. She joins me from the BBC in London. Good morning.

JOJO MOYES: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this novel picks up from the second book in the series, where Louisa is able to find love after a loss. So tell us where Louisa goes now.

MOYES: Well, she heads stateside. The book is set in New York mostly, where she goes to work for a new family. She essentially goes to work as the companion to a rich man's wife but, as with all these things, soon discovers that her role is not quite what she thought it was. But it's also just about her struggle to maintain her relationship with Ambulance Sam, who's still in the U.K., but also identity and Louisa really working out who she is out of the shadow of these amazing men.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The people Louisa's working for, as you mentioned, is a businessman and his new, young, second wife from Eastern Europe. That sounds like it could have been a walking cliche. And yet you do humanize these characters. They are complicated. Tell us about the wife, Agnes.

MOYES: I'm glad you said you thought she was complex because she doesn't always behave in a way that you might admire. But I sort of hope that she behaves in a way that you might understand. And that's what I really enjoy doing with characters - is making them flawed human beings who make mistakes and get things wrong. But essentially, you might like them anyway.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You show in the book how women struggle in this very elite environment to be sort of perfect, to be accepted.

MOYES: Exactly. I mean, I think, you know, my husband is always amazed by the subtlety of the ways that women can put each other down. It's like a language. It's like a dog whistle, you know? Only dogs can hear it. Well, only women can hear these subtle kind of put-downs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We all know what is being signaled. Yes. Sometimes it escapes men, but we always know.

MOYES: Exactly. Exactly. He says, but she was just being helpful. And I go, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MOYES: In general, the book is about women actually supporting each other. But I do think in those very rarified strata, there is a inherent competitiveness and suspicion of newcomers. And that's what Agnes finds - that although she adores this new husband of hers, and from the outside her life looks like a fairy tale, from the inside, it's a very different story. She's not accepted by the rest of the family. She's not accepted by the new social circle that she finds herself in. And she's also alienated from her own social circle because her problems are all luxury problems, as far as they can see.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to know how you researched that world. Did you talk to people that work with the super wealthy like Louisa does in the book?

MOYES: I did. And, also, I visited. I like, as an ex-journalist, to try as far as possible to actually step into the shoes of the kind of people that I write about. It's really about the kind of blood flow around those buildings as well. It's like how stuff comes in and goes out...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's like an ecosystem - yeah.

MOYES: It really is. And that's what really fascinated me. I wanted the building to be as much of a character as the people themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You talk about how, like, they're never alone. There's always just people coming in and out, delivering flowers, gardeners, bringing food, wine. It's...

MOYES: Well, I guess this is one of the things that really struck me. The really fundamental difference is this thing of living life under observation. The super rich just kind of have to live lives that pretend that that's not happening. And there's an inherent tension in that that I find really interesting as a writer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And, of course, Louisa's all of a sudden thrust into the center of the story where she gets this intimate look at somebody else's life. And she's involved in that marriage in a way.

MOYES: Yeah, because the key thing about this stuff is that they end up holding people's secrets. And this is one of the lessons the chauffeur tries to teach Louisa very early on. You know, you see everything. You hear everything. You say nothing if you want to survive. And that's the thing that Louisa perhaps isn't naturally best suited to.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No. She is very chatty. A lot of your novels are anchored by people in different class situations. It's been a thread throughout this entire series. Louisa's a working-class woman. She finds herself with rich men. Will, obviously, in the first book - Josh in this book is also of a different class. Do you think the problems of class lends itself to stories about romance?

MOYES: To write interestingly about love and romance, you need tension running through a story. And for me, the really interesting tension in modern life is about the haves and the have-nots. You know, we live in an increasingly polarized society. And when you're in somewhere like Fifth Avenue, it becomes really, really blatant, from the doormen that you pass on the street to, you know, the people getting into the limos outside. It's almost its most naked form. And that I find fascinating. And I suppose the reason I wanted to stay with Louisa is because I think a lot of people just identify with her because she's an ordinary, everyday person who effectively gets thrown into fairly extraordinary situations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is there going to be more Louisa? Are you going to stick with her?

MOYES: You know, I think this is it. I'm really sad to say that because I love writing her. And she's such an easy character for me to write because I feel like I inhabit her very, very easily. But I don't want people to get bored of her. So the only way I might revisit her are or to sort of stop myself getting sad about is maybe to do a short story sometime in the future. But I think as far as long form goes, this might be the end.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we wish her well (laughter). And we wish you well. Jojo Moyes - her new book is "Still Me." It comes out on Jan. 30. Thank you so much for coming on the program.

MOYES: Thank you so much, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ALL THE TIME YOU NEED")

OH HONEY: (Singing) You are sweet as a honey bee. I just can't... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.