inally, I have for you a book that is not related to Outlander at all, and is also not a work of historical fiction! A giant thanks to everyone who bore with me through Diana Gabaldon’s series… And here at last is a great book of entirely different categories. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Jojo moyes’ most popular novel, the heart-rending romance Me Before You.
About the book: a tragic accident leaves the lively, adventuresome Will Traynor permanently crippled. The life sentence of wheelchairs and caregivers and constant pain that accompanies quadriplegia (paralysis affecting all four limbs) could hardly have befallen a less willing target. Will was in his prime, a rich partner of an important firm in London, with a beautiful girlfriend, a love of traveling and exploring the limits of the world and his own body, and a brilliant future ahead; all of this was lost in the blink of an eye when a traffic accident resulted in the severing of Will’s spinal cord. Two years pass, in a haze of medical professionals and health complications, the loss of his job, London home, and many relationships, as well as the worst blow, the inability to make and carry out his own decisions.
Louisa Clark is hired as his personal caretaker when Will’s family becomes desperate to improve his quality of life. Knowing practically nothing about medicine or quadriplegia, Louisa quickly learns that she has been hired primarily as a babysitter, charged with “cheering him up.” Despite Will’s general unpleasantness toward everyone around him, and the complications her job creates in her relationship with Patrick, her boyfriend of seven years, Louisa is determined not to let Will drive her away from the job, which will provide her struggling family with money they desperately need. Every day with Will is a challenge to her mental and emotional state, but her unfaltering determination and attempts at cheerfulness make just as much of an impression as Will’s rudeness. When Louisa learns that Will wishes to end his life, she is horrified, but approaches her job with newfound single-mindedness to show him that even from a wheelchair–where he is completely dependent on others for mere survival, which is a strenuous fight in itself–his life is worth living. Will, after failing to scare her away, treats Louisa like his pet project, encouraging her to see that she’s not living up to her potential and is, in fact, wasting her time by failing to branch out into the world beyond her hometown and find a career she loves. From opposing backgrounds and personalities, they must show each other the good they see in the world and change each other’s course–before it’s too late.
“How could you live each day knowing that you were simply whiling away the days until your own death? How could this man whose skin I had felt that morning under my fingers–warm, and alive–choose to just extinguish himself? How could it be that, with everyone’s consent…that same skin would be decaying under the ground? I couldn’t tell anyone. That was almost the worst bit. I was now complicit in the Traynors’ secret.”
This is a book that makes the reader think about his/her own life, and what makes it worth living. There are so many opinions in Me Before You about what a person should be doing with their life, and whose right it is to decide whether trying to achieve those goals is worth the time they’ve been given. There’s the matter of pain–which kinds are worst, which are bearable, and which are completely intolerable. And, of course, how much a person can ask of someone they love.
Will and Louisa likely wouldn’t have met and struck up their unlikely friendship under any other circumstances, but the circumstances are such that that they can’t have the relationship they deserve. Is what they can have worth fighting for? That is the question whose answer will determine their fates, but none of them seem capable of addressing it.
One thing I didn’t like: Louisa has absolutely no aspirations or even thoughts of her future before meeting Will. She barely considers what life holds for her at all beyond the moment she’s living in, and even that she dedicates to worrying about someone else–her family, her boyfriend, her employers… My biggest pet peeve in books is finding a character that seems too fictional, too manufactured for the pages she/he is confined to; it’s hard to believe that this man whose dreams have been ripped away from him just happens to meet this woman who has so few dreams it’s hard to believe she even sleeps at night. Louisa is a kind and caring person, who works hard to help her family and support her friends, but it goes beyond selflessness–she doesn’t seem to have any opinions about her station in life or where she could be in the future at all.
“I was twenty-six years old and I wasn’t really sure what I was. Up until I lost my job I hadn’t even given it any thought. I supposed I would probably marry Patrick, knock out a few kids, live a few streets away from where I had always lived. Apart from an exotic taste in clothes, and the fact that I’m a bit short, there’s not a lot separating me from anyone you might pass on the street. You probably wouldn’t look at me twice. An ordinary girl, leading an ordinary life. It actually suited me fine.”
” ‘ I’m not really a hobby person…I don’t do much, okay? I work and then I go home.’ “
Louisa Clark is not a boring character, and she has had a trauma in her past that affected her behavior and view on life. Not all people are dreamers. But I was shocked by how content such a colorful person could be to simply exist. If I could change one thing about this book, I would want Louisa to be a little more strong-willed.
One thing I loved: Although this book is mostly written from the first-person perspective of Louisa, there are also chapters scattered throughout the book that give first-person narration to some of the other significant characters in this story. None of the people in this book are stereotypical, and seeing a slice of each of their lives sheds new light on our main characters, the complicated situation they find themselves in, and how their choices are affecting the people who love them. I am a huge fan of writing that employs all available views on a situation, and I particularly enjoyed the insights that these extra chapters allowed for the reader. Oddly enough, with that in mind, I also thought Moyes made a great choice in using Will’s narrative voice only in the prologue, before his accident. So much of this story is centered around Will that we see him from all angles just by reading about him through the other characters, and he’s sufficiently blunt about making his own position on matters clear with his dialogue. Moyes does a wonderful job of displaying the depth of each character to greatest advantage.
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I think Moyes did a beautiful job of presenting both sides of the conflict in such a way that the reader can understand both Louisa’s and Will’s perspectives; many parts of the story seemed predictable to me, but I was truly uncertain about the final outcome of this story, which is a tribute to the great character writing Moyes does in this novel. I found the movie underwhelming after reading the book, which is another sign that the careful details of Me Before You are fantastically woven in the novel. The romance is incredibly slow-building, which I usually appreciate, but here it left me wondering from time to time how much emotion was truly between Will and Louisa, how much was projected by them in consequence of their stressful circumstances, and how much was projected by me, wanting to see something there. I’m looking forward to delving into the sequel, where I think the aftermath of Me Before You will further solidify my impressions of these characters and their story.
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a YA book dealing with the complications of cancer both inciting and interfering with romance. The biggest point that I think this book has in common with Me Before You is the sense of self-reflection they inflict upon the reader. There’s nothing like unfair medical tragedies to make healthy readers think about how they can make the most of their own lives. If you’re in need of a little inspiration, and don’t mind losing a few tears in the process, both of these books are great reads.
- Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train is another book set in England with a female lead. This one’s more of a thriller, but the characterization is brilliant, and this book will also leave readers contemplating how much of life is truly under their control. Check out my review of this book here.
Coming up next: Hopefully my review of Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John series will be posted soon, but I’m still waiting on the final novella to arrive so I can include my thoughts on that before I share. In the meantime, I’ll be working on a great YA summer read, e. lockhart’s We Were Liars, which is a beautifully mysterious tale of romance, expectations, and growing up. Keep an eye out for both of these reviews!
May the sun stay hot and your books stay long,
The Literary Elephant
Update: You can find my review of Moyes’ sequel to this book, titled After You, here. P.S. there may be spoilers for Me Before You there!