‘…families are different shapes now, right? It doesn’t have to be two point four anymore.’
Jessica Thomas is a cleaner and a barmaid. She’s good at practical things – grouting, picture-hanging – and budgeting, because she has to be. She’s got two kids, Tanzie who’s gifted at maths and Nicky, her eyeliner-wearing, sullen, continually being beaten by nasty intolerant kids stepson. Marty, their father upped and left over a year ago, telling Jess he needed time to sort himself out. This is the thing that upsets Jess the most:
There were lots of awful things about the father of your children leaving: the money issues, the suppressed anger on behalf of your children, the way most of your coupled-up friends now treated you as if you were some kind of potential husband-stealer. But worse than that, worse than the endless, relentless, bloody exhausting financial and energy sapping struggle, was that being a parent on your own when you were totally out of your depth was actually the loneliest place on earth.
At the beginning of the novel, Jess receives a phone call about Tanzie; the local private school has tested her and wants to interview her for a subsidised place. Tanzie’s successful and desperate to attend the school, where students can walk around reading without getting beaten up, but Jess needs to find two thousand pounds to pay for the first year. Marty refuses to help. In what could have been an oh-so-predictable plot twist, Tanzie’s maths teacher telephones Jess to tell her about a Maths Olympiad that Tanzie is eligible for. The prizes are £500, £1000 and £5000. However, it’s in Scotland. Despite the resources it will take them to get to there, Jess starts putting a plan together.
But The One Plus One isn’t just Jess’ story. It’s also Ed Nicholls’. Ed’s story begins with him being suspended from his own company, by his partner Ronan, while the Financial Services Authority search his office. After his actress wife, Lara, left him, Ed had hooked up with Deanna Lewis, a woman both Ed and Ronan had fancied at college. However, she turned out to be exactly not what Ed needed six months after his wife left him and in a bid to get rid of her – she’d love to travel but can’t afford it – he tells her to buy some shares in his company as they’ve got something new about to be released. Deanna tells her brother, they make some money and Ed gets himself arrested. There is one thing Ed doesn’t need to worry about though:
He told [Deanna] of the day they’d gone public, when he had sat on the edge of his bath watching the share price go up and up…
‘You’re that wealthy?’
‘I do okay.’
He was aware that he was this close to sounding like a dick. ‘Well…I was doing better until I got divorced, obviously…I do okay. You know, I’m not really interested in the money.’
Spoken just like someone who doesn’t need to think about it.
It’s not difficult to work out that somehow Moyes is going to bring Jess and Ed together – they’re exactly what each other needs, right? In the hands of a less experienced writer, this could have been forced and difficult to believe but Moyes allows the story to unravel in its own time. It’s helped by Jess’ absolute determination that she will look after her kids and do everything she can to get Tanzie to Scotland and Ed’s sister, Gemma, who seems to be almost constantly berating him for being a useless brother and son. Despite everything, Ed doesn’t want people to think he’s an arsehole, cue a road trip from Southampton to Scotland featuring Ed, Jess, Nicky, Tanzie and Norman, their enormous, slobbering dog.
The One Plus One is a mature piece of work. It looks at the current state of the UK – the poor get poorer with little hope of escape while the rich get richer without curtailment – and wonders what if? What if someone from either side of the fence was allowed to look at each other’s life, what would they see? What would they think? How would they behave? And what’s really great about Moyes’ characterisation is Jess and Ed aren’t stereotypes; she allows neither of them to be entirely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ nor does she judge either of them for their choices.
I thoroughly enjoyed The One Plus One and I think it’s Moyes’ best book yet.
Thanks to Penguin for the review copy.