Book Review: Me Before You – Jojo Moyes, 2012

A book review in three acts…

Prologue 
A friend of mine read Matt Haig’s “The Humans” after I so highly recommended it and she didn’t quite share my enthusiasm. Mmph. Maybe I should make Stephen Fry my new bestie LOL

When we (the friend and I, not Stephen Fry and I of course *g*) continued to talk about books, I realized I couldn’t recommend any other book to her. Because besides the forementioned The Humans and of course MOBY, none of the the other books I’ve read this year have left a lasting impression. In the days following that conversation I have read a amazing book though.

Cue to “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes.

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Act One
First of all I have to make amends for assuming that Jojo Moyes was writing “chick-lit” or romance novels. I think the book covers and the  “girl meets boy and both their lives will change forever” summary on the back of the books somehow gave me that impression.
I don’t remember the first time I noticed Moyes’s novels, maybe they were recommended to me on Amazon or I saw them on display at a book store. When I visited a book store last week there was a huge table with various Moyes novels on it and I paid a bit more attention to them. I was still under the chick lit impression and as I’ve been busy and my mind so full of all kinds of things I thought an easy to read, entertaining, light romance kind of book would be a good choice as next one to read. I decided to buy “Me Before You”, expecting a classic romance or chick lit novel. Oh boy, was I wrong. And how I loved being wrong!

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Act Two
Yes, this book basically is a “girl meets boy and both their lives will change forever” story. And yes, it’s a love story. But it also is so so much more. I don’t want to give too much away here (I will do that in a “Be aware of SPOILERS!” Act Three) to not ruin this story for anyone who might want to read it as well.
Jojo Moyes did a great job of writing characters which I very quickly very much cared about. It’s not just Louisa Clark and Will Traynor, it’s Lou’s whole family, going through hard times, like we all had or could have had. And to some extent I also liked Will’s family, even though they are a lot less endearing than the Clarks. But they do have a much bigger cross to bear, so to speak, which gives them a lot of free passes in my eyes.

The story sucked me in pretty quickly, maybe because I could relate to Lou so much in her small town kind of life. Being content in a way, but also just being too timid to dream bigger and to do bigger things and try to get to the core of who she really is. I really saw a lot of myself in Lou. Especially also in the way she tries to change Will’s life, because I probably would have done the same.
I fell for Will just as quickly, but admit that picturing Sam Heughan in this role did help with that *g* To be honest, as much as I would love to see my latest mancandy crush Sam play this part in the movie, I don’t really think he would be the right choice. He’s too large, I think.
Anyway, yes I loved Will very soon as well. Did I feel sorry for him? Of course I did, anyone would. But Jojo Moyes also managed to make him so much more-dimensional than just the poor victim. She also managed to bit by bit show why Louisa’s plan had to fail in the end, even though I so wanted her plan to work. But if it had, it would have been a classic, cheesy romance ending and even though these are totally valid in some books, this story deserved so much more. And Jojo Moyes didn’t shy away from that and delivered it.

Like I said, I could relate to a lot of stuff in this story. I could put myself into Lou’s shoes, and I tried to put myself into Will’s shoes, which was not that simple, because his situation was anything but simple. I learned to understand where he was coming from and because of that, the last few chapters were so heartbreaking. And beautiful and powerful and just so very, very, sad. I said it on Twitter after I finished the book: I don’t remember crying so hard and so long over any other book. Ever. Seriously. This is the saddest story I have encountered in my decades of reading books. In a totally good way. [I admit I haven’t read “The Fault in Our Stars” yet, so from what I hear some people say about that book, it might be similar.]
The power of “Me Before You” and what distinguishes this book from a standard romance novel, is, that in all it’s sadness it’s also a very uplifting and – contradictory as it may sound – positive story. It makes you think about your life and how you would want to live it and how you would act in certain situations. It also is quite funny sometimes, so all in all, to me it’s one of those perfect little gems of literature. And I’m so grateful that the wrong chick-lit impression lead me to it :-)

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Act Three
S
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Seriously… Continue at your own risk

S
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Are you sure?

S
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Ok, you’ve been warned.

So, 26 year old Lou loses her job and although she doesn’t have any real experience in nursing or caring the Traynor family employs her as carer (aka “babysitter”) for their 35 year old son Will, who is a quadriplegic. Will got injured in a road accident two years before and the only mobility he has left is to move his head and one of his hands to some little extent. When this setup became clear I was a bit afraid that it would just be a romance variation of the very successful (and based on a true story) movie “The Intouchables”.

But it all changes in chapter 7, when Lou finds out that her contract only runs for six months, because that’s the amount of time Will promised his parents to wait before he plans to end his life with the help of an assisted suicide organization in Switzerland. From then on the whole story get’s a very unique dynamic.
After her initial shock, Lou is trying to provide different experiences and adventures for Will to make him see that his life is still worth living, without letting him know that she knows about his plans. Will on the other hand is doing his best to make Lou recognize her own potential and to make her find out who she really is. She is very good for him and he is very good for her and it could be such a sweet romantic happy ending if Lou would manage to change Will’s mind and they would live happily ever after.

But as much as Will cares about Lou and even starts loving her, the sad truth is, that he doesn’t want to live this life. I think it’s a very special achievement of Jojo Moyes to make the reader (or me at least) slowly find out and understand and accept that no matter what other people (his family, Lou and we, the reader) think about how Will’s life should and could be worth living, it is his choice after all. And in my eyes it’s a masterpiece of storytelling to make us understand why he made and will make this choice and to make us accept it, as heartbreakingly sad as it is. I’m a lot like Lou in thinking “He HAS to see that he can still live a good life.” But the definition of “good life” is different for everyone and in situations like this it really should and has to be up to the person living this life day in and day out, to decide if it’s worth living.

So from chapter 7 on I was afraid he would go through with it and I was so torn, because on the one hand I wanted to see the happy ending, but on the other hand I knew that to go on living wouldn’t be a happy ending for Will, because he doesn’t want this life. For a short while I even hoped for him to die of a natural cause before the six months were up, to spare Lou the dreadful experience of having to see him go through with his plan. But that would have been a cheesy and easy cop-out to the difficult reality of this situation.
I think the saddest moment (and the one where I could so 10000% relate to Lou, because I feel rejected by far, far less harsh statements) was when Lou told him she loved him and he said “it’s not enough”. Because my first reaction of course was: how can love not be enough? But of course, it can be not enough, when he can’t love her back the way he wants to. The way he believes she deserves to be loved.

I could go on and on about the many ways that this story affected me and made me think and question my own view on things. How would I myself decide if I were ever in a similar situation? As the one paralyzed and unable to live without constant assistance. Or as the one loving someone who needs constant assistance. What do I really think about assisted suicide? How far would I go…?

I don’t have answers for all those questions yet. I’m not sure if I will ever have concluding answers for these questions. I think, first of all, I will need some more time to mourn Will and the loss of a happily ever after for those two together. Man, I get all weepy just thinking about it.

Well done, Jojo Moyes, very well done!

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