Poverty hurts

The One Plus One - Jojo Moyes

Loved it. After a few DNFs, this book was a breath of fresh air, beautifully written, with interesting characters, and a story line which made me cry once or twice.

Not all novels of this author find such an enthusiastic accord with my inner self. I loved Me Before You, one of the best novel I read last year, but I didn’t like The Girl You Left Behind. This book, One Plus One, resonated with me on the deepest level.

The protagonist, Jess, is a single mother with two children and no education. She works as a cleaner, she is always short of funds, her useless ex doesn’t pay any alimony, and she doesn’t press him (he is depressed, the poor chap; he’ll sort himself out soon), but her love for her kids has no bounds. For them, she would go to any length, do almost anything. Their happiness is her ultimate goal.

When this small woman with empty pockets and a big heart meets a wealthy, spoiled computer geek Ed, who is in trouble of his own, sparks fly.

On the surface, most of this story belongs to the oldest genre in literature – a road trip. Out of the comforts of their familiar surroundings, stuck in a car together with Jess’s odd children and a stinky dog, the heroes meet all sorts of people, battle crazy situations, and in the process learn to shed old preconceptions and admit some chafing truths about others and themselves.

Of course, there is a charming love story shimmering in the background, but a much more dismal theme rears its head as the story progresses: poverty. Jess is poor. What does poverty do to a person, the author asks her readers. Her investigation shows some ugly turns. It also dismantles a myth that poverty leads to golden hearts. It doesn’t. It leads to stealing and cheating. Even a basically good person experiences gradual erosion of integrity, when her poverty gets too deep to endure. When it robs her children of all options.

Is her poverty Jess’s own fault? Yes and no. Yes, because her choices led to it. But the society shouldn’t stand idle and watch dispassionately, while a single mother struggles and suffocates on the financial fringes. If the richest nations on the planet have billions to spend on their military forces and space programs, shouldn’t they relocate some of it to help those who live below the poverty level? Not all of them are druggies or criminals. Some of them are just unlucky, or too kind, or perhaps too naive.

I know what I’m talking about. I recognize myself in Jess. Like her, I was a single mother. She stole. I did too, occasionally. Not anything luxurious, no, but something of necessity, cheap but essential for everyday life. And the fact is: I’m not sorry. The department store didn’t even notice one $10 umbrella I filched once, but for me, it equaled 3 loafs of bread, my monthly bread supply. And the umbrella, properly cared for, lasted me for years.

I hate my poverty, and so does Jess, but we are both helpless to fix the situation. We do what we can to survive, although Jess is much more honest and decent than I am. She is sorry for her one act of thievery. But then, unlike me, she is a fictional character.

This wonderful book made me think and feel, cry and smile, doubt and contemplate. Recommended to anyone