Are you a fan of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novels Me Before You and After You? Then you’ll be delighted to learn that the lovable and iconic heroine from those books has returned once again in a new novel, Still Me.
Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life. As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you find the courage to follow your heart—wherever that may lead? Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she discovers who she is and who she was always meant to be—and to live boldly in her brave new world.
To explore the New York City setting of Still Me, click on the white dots on the map below to read excerpts from the book that detail Lou’s experiences in each place. Then pick up a copy of Still Me to get the entire story.
When we finally laughed our way up the subway steps at 163rd Street I was suddenly in a very different New York.
The buildings in this part of Washington Heights looked exhausted: boarded up shop fronts with sagging fire escapes, liquor shops, fried-chicken shops, and beauty salons with curled and faded pictures of outdated hairstyles in the windows. A softly cursing man walked past us, pushing a shopping trolley full of plastic bags. Groups of kids slouched on corners, catcalling to each other, and the curb was punctuated by refuse bags that lay stacked in unruly heaps, or vomited their contents onto the road. There was none of the gloss of Lower Manhattan, none of the purposeful aspiration that was shot through the very air of Midtown. The atmosphere here was scented with fried food and disillusionment.
Meena and Ashok appeared not to notice. They strode along, their heads bent together, checking phones to make sure Meena’s mother wasn’t having problems with the kids. Meena turned to see if I was with them and smiled. I glanced behind me, tucked my wallet deeper inside my jacket, and hurried after them.
We heard the protest before we saw it, a vibration in the air that gradually became distinct, a distant chant. We rounded a corner and there, in front of a sooty red-brick building, stood around a hundred and fifty people, waving placards and chanting, their voices mostly aimed toward a small camera crew. As we approached, Meena thrust her sign into the air. “Education for all!” she yelled. “Don’t take away our kids’ safe spaces!” We pierced the crowd and were swiftly swallowed by it. I had thought New York was diverse, but now I realized all I had seen was the color of people’s skin, the styles of their clothes. Here was a very different range of people. There were old women in knitted caps, hipsters with babies strapped to their backs, young black men with their hair neatly braided, and elderly Indian women in saris. People were animated, joined in a common purpose, and utterly, communally intent on getting their point across. I joined in with the chanting, seeing Meena’s beaming smile, the way she hugged fellow protesters as she moved through the crowd.
“They said it’ll be on the evening news.” An elderly woman turned to me, nodding with satisfaction. “That’s the only thing the city council takes any notice of. They all wanna be on the news.”
“Every year it’s the same, right? Every year we have to fight a little harder to keep the community together. Every year we have to hold tighter to what’s ours.”
“I—I’m sorry. I don’t really know. I’m just here with friends.”
“But you came to help us. That’s what matters.” She placed a hand on my arm. “You know my grandson does a mentoring program here? They pay him to teach other young folk the computers. They actually pay him. He teaches adults too. He helps them apply for jobs.” She clapped her gloved hands together, trying to keep warm. “If the council close it, all those people will have nowhere to go. And you can bet the city councilors will be the first people complaining about the young folk hanging around on street corners. You know it.” She smiled at me as if I did.
Ahead, Meena was holding up her sign again. Ashok, beside her, stooped to greet a friend’s small boy, picking him up and lifting him above the crowd so that he could see better. He looked completely different in this crowd without his doorman outfit. For all we talked, I had only really seen him through the prism of his uniform. I hadn’t wondered about his life beyond the lobby desk, how he supported his family or how long he traveled to work or what he was paid. I surveyed the crowd, which had grown a little quieter once the camera crew departed, and felt oddly ashamed at how little I had really explored New York. This was as much the city as the glossy towers of Midtown.
“What will you do if it does close?” I asked them when we were on the train.
“Honestly?” said Meena, pushing her bandanna back on her hair. “No idea. But they’ll probably close it in the end. There’s another, better-equipped, building two miles away and they’ll say we can take our children there. Because obviously everyone around here has a car. And it’s good for the old people to walk two miles in the ninety-degree heat.” She rolled her eyes. “But we keep fighting till then, right?”
“You gotta have your places for community.” Ashok raised a hand emphatically, slicing the air. “You gotta have places where people can meet and talk and exchange ideas and it not just be about money, you know? Books are what teach you about life. Books teach you empathy. But you can’t buy books if you barely got enough to make rent. So that library is a vital resource! You shut a library, Louisa, you don’t just shut down a building, you shut down hope.”
The Gopnik residence comprised seven thousand square feet on the second and third floors of a red-brick Gothic building, a rare duplex in this part of New York, and testament to generations of Gopnik family riches. This, the Lavery, was a scaled-down imitation of the famous Dakota building, Nathan told me, and was one of the oldest co-ops on the Upper East Side. Nobody could buy or sell an apartment here without the approval of a board of residents who were staunchly resistant to change. While the glossy condominiums across the park housed the new money—Russian oligarchs, pop stars, Chinese steel magnates, and tech billionaires—with communal restaurants, gyms, childcare, and infinity pools, the residents of the Lavery liked things Old School.
These apartments were passed down through generations; their inhabitants learned to tolerate the 1930s plumbing system, fought lengthy and labyrinthine battles for permission to alter anything more extensive than a light switch, and looked politely the other way as New York changed around them, just as one might ignore a beggar with a cardboard sign.
I barely glimpsed the grandeur of the duplex itself, with its parquet floors, elevated ceilings, and floor-length damask drapes, as we headed straight to the staff quarters, which were tucked away at the far end of the second floor, down a long, narrow corridor that led off the kitchen—an anomaly left over from a distant age. The newer or refurbished buildings had no staff quarters: housekeepers and nannies would travel in from Queens or New Jersey on the dawn train and return home after dark. But the Gopnik family had owned these tiny rooms since the building was first constructed. They could not be developed or sold, but were tied through deeds to the main residence, and lusted after as storage rooms. It wasn’t hard to see why they might naturally be considered storage.
“There.” Nathan opened a door and dropped my bags.
My room measured approximately twelve feet by twelve feet. It housed a double bed, a television, a chest of drawers, and a wardrobe. A small armchair, upholstered in beige fabric, sat in the corner, its sagging seat testament to previous exhausted occupants. A small window might have looked south. Or north. Or east. It was hard to tell, as it was approximately six feet from the blank brick rear of a building so tall that I could see the sky only if I pressed my face to the glass and craned my neck.
A communal kitchen sat nearby on the corridor, to be shared by me, Nathan, and a housekeeper, whose own room was across the corridor.
On my bed sat a neat pile of five dark-green polo shirts and what looked like black trousers, bearing a cheap Teflon sheen.
“They didn’t tell you about the uniform?”
I picked up one of the polo shirts.
“It’s just a shirt and trousers. The Gopniks think a uniform makes it simpler. Everyone knows where they stand.”
“If you want to look like a pro golfer.”
I peered into the tiny bathroom, tiled in limescale-encrusted brown marble, which opened off the bedroom. It housed a loo, a small basin that looked like it dated from the 1940s, and a shower. A paper-wrapped soap and a can of cockroach killer sat on the side.
“It’s actually pretty generous by Manhattan standards,” Nathan said. “I know it looks a little tired but Mrs. G says we can give it a splosh of paint. A couple of extra lamps and a quick trip to Crate and Barrel and it’ll—”
“I love it,” I said. I turned to him, my voice suddenly shaky. “I’m in New York, Nathan. I’m actually here.”
He squeezed my shoulder. “Yup. You really are.”
I had heard the expression “hit the ground running” but until George I had never truly understood what it meant. He set off down the corridor at what felt like forty miles an hour, and just when I thought we would at least slow for the lift, he held open the double doors at the end so that we could sprint down the four flights of stairs that took us to the ground floor. We were out through the lobby and past Ashok in a blur, me just able to catch his muffled greeting.
Dear God, but it was too early for this. I followed the two of them, jogging effortlessly like a pair of carriage horses, while I sprinted behind, my shorter stride failing to match theirs, my bones jarring with the impact of each footfall, muttering my apologies as I swerved between the kamikaze pedestrians who walked into my path. Running had been my ex Patrick’s thing. It was like kale—one of those things you know exists and is possibly good for you but, frankly, life is always going to be too short to get stuck in.
Oh, come on, you can do this, I told myself. This is your first say yes! moment. You are jogging in New York! This is a whole new you! For a few glorious strides I almost believed it. The traffic stopped, the crossing light changed, and we paused at the curbside, George and Agnes bouncing lightly on their toes, me unseen behind them. Then we were across and into Central Park, the path disappearing beneath our feet, the sounds of the traffic fading as we entered the green oasis at the heart of the city.
We were barely a mile in when I realized this was not a good idea. Even though I was now walking as much as running, my breath was already coming in gasps, my hip protesting all-too-recent injuries. The farthest I had run in years was fifteen yards for a slowing bus, and I’d missed that. I glanced up to see George and Agnes were talking while they jogged. I couldn’t breathe, and they were holding an honest to God conversation.
I thought about a friend of Dad’s who had had a heart attack while jogging. Dad had always used it as a clear illustration of why sport was bad for you. Why had I not explained my injuries? Was I going to cough a lung out right here in the middle of the park?
“You okay back there, Miss Louisa?” George turned so that he was jogging backward.
“Fine!” I gave him a cheery thumbs up.
I had always wanted to see Central Park. But not this way. I wondered what would happen if I keeled over and died on my first day in the job. How would they get my body home? I swerved to avoid a woman with three identical meandering toddlers. Please, God, I willed the two people running effortlessly in front of me, silently. Just one of you fall over. Not to break a leg exactly, just a little sprain. One of those things that lasts twenty-four hours and requires lying on a sofa with your leg up watching daytime telly.
They were pulling away from me now and there was nothing I could do. What kind of park had hills in it? Mr. Gopnik would be furious with me for not sticking with his wife. Agnes would realize I was a silly, dumpy Englishwoman, rather than an ally. They would hire someone slim and gorgeous with better running clothes.
It was at this point that the old man jogged past me. He turned his head to glance at me, then consulted his fitness tracker and kept going, nimble on his toes, his headphones plugged into his ears. He must have been seventy- five years old.
“Oh, come on.” I watched him speed away from me. And then I caught sight of the horse and carriage. I pushed forward until I was level with the driver. “Hey! Hey! Any chance you could just trot up to where those people are running?”
I pointed to the tiny figures now in the far distance. He peered toward them, then shrugged. I climbed up on the carriage and ducked down behind him while he urged his horse forward with a light slap of the reins. Yet another New York experience that wasn’t quite as planned, I thought, as I crouched behind him. We drew closer, and I tapped him to let me out. It could only have been about five hundred yards but at least it had got me closer to them. I made to jump down.
“Forty bucks,” said the driver.
“We only went five hundred yards!”
“That’s what it costs, lady.”
They were still deep in conversation. I pulled two twenty-dollar notes from my back pocket and hurled them at him, then ducked behind the carriage and started to jog, just in time for George to turn around and spot me. I gave him another cheery thumbs up as if I’d been there all along.
Top of the Rock
I stood in the epicenter of Manhattan in front of the towering building, letting my breathing slow, and stared at the gilded sign above the vast entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Around me New York teemed in the evening heat, the sidewalks solid with meandering tourists, the air thick with blaring horns and the ever-present scent of exhaust and overheated rubber. Behind me a woman with a 30 Rock golf shirt, her voice struggling to be heard over the racket, was giving a well-rehearsed tour speech to a group of Japanese sightseers. The building project was completed in 1933 by noted architect Raymond Hood in the art deco style—Sir, please stay together, sir. Ma’am? Ma’am?—and was originally named the RCA building before becoming the GE building in—Ma’am? Over here please . . . I gazed up at its sixty-seven floors and took a deep breath.
It was a quarter to seven.
I had wanted to look perfect for this moment, had planned to head back to the Lavery at five to give myself time to shower and pick an appropriate outfit (I was thinking Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember). But Fate had intervened in the form of a stylist from an Italian fashion magazine, who had arrived at the Vintage Clothing Emporium at four thirty and wanted to look at all the two-piece suits for a feature she was planning, then needed her colleague to try some on so she could take pictures and come back to me. Before I knew what was happening it was twenty to six and I barely had time to run Dean Martin home and feed him before heading down here. So here I was, sweaty and a little frazzled, still in my work clothes, about to find out which way my life was about to go next.
It was an unpromising storefront—a grubby 1970s exterior that promised a “Vintage Clothes Emporium, all decades, all styles, low prices.” But I walked in and stopped in my tracks. The shop was a warehouse, set with carousels of clothes in distinct sections under homemade signs that said “1940s,” “1960s,” “Clothes That Dreams Are Made Of,” and “Bargain Corner: No Shame In A Ripped Seam.” The air smelled musky, of decades-old perfume, moth-eaten fur, and long-forgotten evenings out. I gulped in the scent like oxygen, feeling as if I had somehow recovered a part of myself I had barely known I was missing. I trailed around the store, trying on armfuls of clothes by designers I had never heard of, their names a whispered echo of some long-forgotten age—Tailored by Michel, Fonseca of New Jersey, Miss Aramis—running my fingers over invisible stitching, placing Chinese silks and chiffon against my cheek. I could have bought a dozen things, but I finally settled on a teal blue fitted cocktail dress with huge fur cuffs and a scoop neck (I told myself fur didn’t count if it dated from sixty years ago), a pair of vintage denim railroad dungarees, and a checked shirt that made me want to chop down a tree or maybe ride a horse with a swishy tail. I could have stayed there all day.
I looked up through gritty eyes and there it was across the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan, shining like a million jagged shards of light, awe-inspiring, glossy, impossibly condensed and beautiful, a sight that was so familiar from television and films that I couldn’t quite accept I was seeing it for real. I shifted upright in my seat, dumbstruck as we sped toward it, the most famous metropolis on the planet.
“Never gets old, that view, eh? Bit grander than Stortfold.”
I don’t think it had actually hit me until that point. My new home.
Featured illustration and map: Taylor Grant