STILL ME, by Jojo Moyes. Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 390 pp., $27.
“Still Me” is the third installment in the adventures of Louisa Clark, she of the ditsy fashion sense and knack for sweetening up sourpusses. We first met her in Jojo Moyes’ 2012 breakout, “Me Before You,” and later in “After You.” Both novels were narrated by Louisa and filled with elements essential to understanding the present book, so here goes: In her first outing Louisa, 27 years old, from an English working-class family, served as a caregiver to Will Traynor. A once active and enterprising man in his mid-30s, he was rendered quadriplegic by an accident suffered two years earlier. Though wealthy and receiving the very best care, Will was unable to tolerate his restricted existence and bouts of excruciating, near-fatal illness, and intended to travel to Switzerland to carry out an assisted suicide. Louisa reached deep within her bag of sunshine to convince him that life was worth living, and the two fell in love. Sadly, Will did not survive, but he did leave Louisa money and a command that she live her life to the fullest.
Louisa carried Will’s memory into “After You,” where, in a great state of grief, she polished off a bottle of wine and stumbled off a roof, miraculously surviving despite broken bones. She fell in love with Sam, a paramedic who helped scrape her up after her fall. Later he was shot in the gut — but also survived. In other news, Louisa discovered that Will had a child, about whom he had not known. This was Lily, now 16 and a real messed-up kid whose life Louisa sorted out as only she can.
That brings us into the present and “Still Me” — which could just as well be called “Still Will,” because he hasn’t left Louisa’s mind for a minute. His diktat that she expand her world prompts her to accept a job in New York for a year to see what life has to offer there — and, as it happens, it’s no bowl of cherries.
In the city, Louisa serves as gofer and companion to Agnes, the neurotic, Polish-immigrant second wife of an obscenely wealthy, old-money, high-finance guy. The couple have a two-floor, 7,000-square-foot co-op apartment on Central Park and live the highflying, 1-percenter lifestyle we’re always reading about and despising.
Agnes can’t bear going to all the social and top-dollar philanthropic events her station in life demands, and Louisa’s mission is to buck her up. And she does, treating us along the way to some nicely sardonic descriptions of high-net-worth Manhattan, where, for instance, women at a benefit gala are “hoicked into tiny dresses, clavicles poking out like safety rails.”
It emerges that Agnes bears a dark secret, one that eventually leads to big trouble for Louisa. Also on the scene is Mrs. De Witt, an ancient, extremely crabby resident of the building who owns many decades’ worth of high fashion outfits and a nasty little dog called Dean Martin. Louisa’s zany vintage clothing and cheerful mien create a bond with the old girl, leading to brighter prospects. But what of paramedic Sam? Are 3,000-plus miles too many to keep the love light burning? Will Josh, a bright spark on Wall Street (who looks just like the departed Will Traynor) replace him? Do the answers to these questions bring the Louisa chronicles to a close? We hope so. Because while Moyes is an entertaining, often very funny, and pleasantly sappy writer, more and more of Louisa’s story takes place in her memory — a sign to us that she’s ready for retirement.