Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

>> Monday, April 04, 2016

TITLE: Me Before You
AUTHOR: Jojo Moyes

PAGES: 482

SETTING: Contemporary UK
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: There is a sequel

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.
I read this one quite a while ago and wrote a bit of a brain-dump on my reactions to it, meaning to work it up into a proper review. I never did, but a sequel has come out and I'm planning to read it, so I've come back to it.

Me Before You wasn't what I expected. It comes dressed in chick lit clothes, so I expected comedy and an HEA ending. I got the comedy, but since readers of this blog are mainly romance readers, they'll probably appreciate knowing that I didn't get that HEA. However, I got the right ending for this particular story, in my opinion, and I explain why below after the spoiler space.

The book's main narrator is Louisa Clark, a regular young woman from a regular working class family who takes a job as a carer for a quadraplegic man. Will Traynor used to have an extremely privileged life: plenty of money, a satisfying job and lots of friends to travel and do extreme sports with. He still has the plenty of money, but after his accident, all that he loved about his life disappeared. It's been quite a while, but he still hasn't got to the stage of accepting his new circumstances and wanting to build a new life, so his mother is very worried. Luisa, who refuses to kowtow to Will or treat him like some tragic object of pity, seems like just the right person to help him find some joy in life.

And to an extent, it works. Lou and Will come to care about each other and they develop a relationship that improves both their lives. But Will is very certain about certain things, and Lou is determined to change his mind.

And on that cryptic note, I'll stop with the plot summary. Before I explain it better below, I should say I felt this book was very emotional, but in an honest, completely non-manipulative and non-maudlin way. There was a point when I discovered the big spoiler thing and I thought "Oh, shit, she's going to go all Jodi Picoult", but I was wrong. To me this did not feel at all exploitative. It's also an extremely funny book, which works wonderfully because it makes the very sad elements feel more bearable. With the subject matter it could have been very difficult  to read through, but the humour makes it easier to read and does not make it any less powerful.

So yes, I really liked it, and if this sounds good and you prefer no spoilers (well, beyond what I've already said about no HEA), stop reading now and go buy it. Because I'm now going to go into serious spoiler territory.








Ok, so, the big thing I didn't want to mention above is that after a while, it becomes clear that what this book is actually about is the right to die. Will has decided that life as a quadraplegic person is not a life he wants, and he intends to travel to an assisted dying clinic. During the book he and Lou fall in love and he becomes a lot happier, but he does not change his mind. None of the tactics Lou comes up with to convince him work. In the end, he goes through with it, with Lou by his side.

It's obvious that this is potentially problematic, and it's probably why I've taken so long to write this review. It takes quite a while to process. I think with a book like this whether it works for you or not will depend on whether you feel the author is saying something about all people with a particular characteristic, rather than simply talking about a particular character. Is she saying being quadriplegic is so awful that death is preferable to even life with someone who loves you?

The reason I liked this was because I didn't think she was saying that at all, although I accept that other readers may interpret it very differently. Moyes makes a point of showing that plenty of people in Will's same circumstances have happy, fulfilling lives. A big part of Lou's efforts are about that. She begs Will to talk to people who have similar conditions, people she's been in touch with (and whose experiences we readers have been privy to, through their postings online and emails to Lou) and who are happy. Will's response is that he's sure they are happy, but this is his decision, and he, Will, wants this. I chose to take this at face value and accept that this was what Moyes was saying, nothing more, particularly because this made sense given Will's characterisation.

And in the end, I thought the ending, where he does go through with his plans, was the right one. Once the situation had been set up, I think I would have been even less happy with an ending where Will's choices had been taken away because other people thought he should want something different, or even one where he'd changed his mind because he'd realised they were right. I think I would have found that infantilising. Will is not less, he's not someone whose decisions should be made for him, and I would have felt that people arguing that he wasn't in his right mind and wasn't able to make decisions would have been a lie. Will has a very good idea of what his life will look like. He knows Lou loves him and he loves her and that they can have a very satisfying relationship. He's not in a situation where he only sees a hopeless future. He knows exactly what he's rejecting, and he has every right to reject it, if he so wants. To me, keeping him from doing so would mean saying that because he has lost much of his control over his physical body he therefore must lose control over his life, and I don't think that would be right.

So, it worked for me, but this is very definitely a YMMV book.



Sun,  4 April 2016 at 13:16  

Great review. I, too, felt that the ending was right, predictable even. Any other outcomes would be trite and corny. Will's decision also resonated well with me. However, I still can't say I liked the book. I wonder whether I'd have enjoyed it more if the book was told from Will's POV.

meljean brook 5 April 2016 at 06:54  

Oh, that's not what I expected at all. That's a lot more interesting to me -- from the movie previews, it looked to me like a chick lit + Nicholas Sparks tragic ending. But it sounds quite different from that.

Rosario 5 April 2016 at 08:42  

Sun: Oh, what didn't work for you? Was it Lou? I did find her "chirpy working class" characterisation a little unsubtle, but I did like her!

Meljean: Yeah, I don't think it's well served by the marketing. That cover is very misleading. I found it actually quite thoughtful.

Sun,  5 April 2016 at 12:10  

I was okay with Lou even though the way she was treated in the book was pretty crappy. Problem was that I just detached myself from her once I guessed the ending. Plus, by the second half of the book, I was rooting for Will to go on with his plan.

But I'd love to read your review for Book 2. I'm curious about it but not enough to pick it up myself.

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