I found myself asking very early on into this book about the meaning of the title. Are we talking about Jo’s family finding her, or Jo finding herself, or some kind of combination of the two?
I was instantly struck by the humour in the book, when Jo tries to get a taxi to the Connaught Hotel, a self professed Bournemouth sounding place (I’m from there and there is a Connaught Hotel), only for the reader to discover that Jo is actually in Delhi! I thought it was inspired, the way the book gradually gave out snippets about Jo’s life, leading up to why she was in India, almost like leading a trail of clues for the reader.
Jo ends up at a retreat near the Himalayas and makes a great group of friends. I loved the vivid descriptions of India and of the train journeys and at times I could close my eyes and almost imagine myself there. In stark contrast to the amazing location, are the excerpts about Jo’s former relationship with the possessive Rob; the author has created a seemingly unpleasant chap in Rob and it’s a real reminder that people like that do exist and women like Jo end up living with people in oppressive, calculating relationships like theirslike that all the time; a sobering thought. I found the comment about how Jo let him come home with her last Christmas, simply because he was such a nasty drunk, and it was easier to submit and let him come, a very telling moment. I felt that the author achieved just the right balance between light and dark moments, whilst talking about what is a very serious, hard hitting and relevant topic and she is to be commended for that.
Rasi, one of the mentors at the retreat, comes across as an amazingly empathetic character and I can see how Jo might be able to pour her heart out to him; it made me feel as though I wanted, maybe even needed my own Rasi in my life! I adored the moment where Jo opens up to him and asks him to teach her to live; a truly liberating moment. Another beautifully poignant moment occurs when Jo is talking to her new friend David and comments that people have been listening to her – somewhat a novelty, as she feels that no one listens to her at home. David is a wonderful, complex character who initially comes across as a bit of a Jack-the-lad; the joker of the pack, but he has a hidden former darker side, fuelled by money, drugs and alcohol. I think his character was sensitively portrayed and I loved the moment where he asks Jo not to tell their friend Gemma about a moment that he confessed to wanting a drink, because she was such a good person. It really showed his sensitive side! Throughout the book David is portrayed as actually being rather vulnerable on more than one occasion and it’s quite refreshing to move away from stereotypes.
I must make a special mention of the descriptions of all the fantastic Indian food in this book; it all seemed so real that I could almost taste it and could quite happily breakfast vicariously through Jo on all the wonderful sounding fresh fruit and yoghurt. It’s not often that a book makes me hungry!
Beth, Jo’s Sister isn’t portrayed as a particularly pleasant character. She seems pretty selfish and self centred, but really takes the bucket when she goes to Rob’s flat and seduces him! Not the behaviour one would expect of a loving sibling, but in the context of this story, a really refreshing break from the norm. It really felt as though Beth had got her just deserts though, when Rob calls out Jo’s name, when mid-passion. A literary masterstroke!
Michael is an odd character and his relationship with Jo has been difficult historically. When he turns up at the retreat, he seems as miserable as ever, but he gradually started to endear himself to me; he is a complex character and the way develops is both clever and gratifyIng. I really felt for him, and felt that there was hope for his character as he ‘came out of himself’ organically, the longer he stayed at the retreat. The way he was portrayed, I ended up feeling compassion for him, and the more pleasant he became, the more personal gratification for me! I felt great respect and empathy for the way that he was described as loving and missing his children. I thought that Michael was a stereotypical man, in the sense that he didn’t feel comfortable talking about his feelings and the way that this aspect of his character thawed seemed to me to be written very cleverly.
Jo’s family, as a group, come across as pretty dysfunctional. I felt that ultimately Jo rediscovered her relationship with her Mother, which left me with a lovely feel-good feeling and this feeling seemed to be reciprocated; I felt like a proud Mother, as Maggie confessed to being inspired by Jo.
The relationship between Jo and Rasi has a semblance of great intensity, such is the way it is written. It is easy to see how Jo could come to think that there might be more to the relationship than there is. It was great for Rasi to have such a virtuous moral compass and I appreciated the author’s decision to take this route, rather than the sometimes obvious sexual path.
The joy that I felt when Tim turned up was a testament to how much the author made me care about Jo. I just got a sense that the new Jo was about to become complete and I found myself wishing her so much from the relationship – almost as though she were a personal friend of mine, such have my feelings for some of these characters manifested themselves. I became so engrossed that I almost forgot these characters aren’t real!
One thing I do know for certain is that I found the Jo that she had grown into at the end of the book, after she had ‘found herself’ a more endearing and likeable character than the Jo at the beginning of the book. Oh and a final note, a sequel, to find out more about Jo would not go amiss.
Use this link to buy the book for yourself: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08VWL1JNR