I’ve wanted to read this for a while, but have put it off in favour of my new-found love for thrillers. I finally borrowed a copy from Juliet (Not Capulet) a couple of weeks ago and decided now was finally the time to read it. I suppose I was also ready for a break from thrillers!
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes tells the story of Lou, a twenty-six year old, still living with her parents, who is made redundant from her job at the local cafe. After a trip to the Job Centre, she is sent to work as a helper for a disabled man. I say helper, rather than carer, because as she discovers at the interview, she is simply to provide company for the man. The man, Will, is a quadriplegic, after being involved in a motorcycle accident, and is confined to a wheelchair, with no use of his arms or legs. After a suicide attempt, Will has made the decision to end his life through assisted dying.
I’d normally avoid books about disabled people, or illness. This stems from my deep hatred for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I really hate the way some authors like to pretend they know what it’s like to be the disabled/ill person, and end up being too sympathetic towards them, allowing their disability to define them. I could write pages and pages of everything that’s wrong about The Fault in Our Stars, but I’ll save that for another post.
For this reason, I was rather apprehensive about reading Me Before You. Thankfully, I didn’t have any of my usual issues. I think it really helped that this is written from Lou’s perspective. Jojo Moyes doesn’t pretend to know what’s going on in Will’s head, and that’s really important. It also helps that Will isn’t portrayed as being some kind of angel perfect person. In fact, at the beginning, he is a complete and utter dick. Just because someone has a disability, it doesn’t automatically make them a nice person, and that is shown here. You don’t love him, or necessarily feel a huge amount of sympathy for him at this point. Yes, it is important to respect his condition and the struggles that come with it, but like I’ve already said, a disability doesn’t have to define someone, it doesn’t change who they are as a person, and we shouldn’t view somebody’s personality any differently than we would an able bodied person because of this. That might be a rather controversial view, but it is one that I feel is expressed in this book, and one that I agree with. This is also something that Will as a character struggles with. He resents being treated differently, and he doesn’t want his condition to define him as a person. Unfortunately, in his mind, it does. It is a huge part of who he is and how he lives, but it is important to remember that he is so much more than that. He is an intelligent person, capable of making his own informed decisions.
I suppose what I’m trying to say, and I’m not articulating it very well, is that Moyes does not use his disability as a gimmick. It is not there for shock value, or as an attempt to be quirky and daring. It’s much more subtle and raw in delivery. This book isn’t really about the disability itself, it is really only a catalyst for the morals that Moyes is trying to portray. It is more about the fine line between right and wrong; and how things can be perceived differently by different people in different circumstances. People deal with things in completely different ways.
I have recently read quite a few comments and reviews, expressing the opinion that this story promotes the idea that life with a disability is not worth living, and that an able-bodied person cannot possibly have an opinion on this sort of issue. I have many problems with this, I don’t know where to start. Firstly, many of these people are basing their opinions on the movie synopsis and trailer, having not read the book and not knowing the full story. I do not believe this book promotes any of those ideas, and that is the whole point of the story. This is a story about one individual, it is not a representation of the entire disabled community. How can anybody, including other disabled people, have an opinion on how someone else should live (or not, as the case may be). This is entirely Will’s decision; only he knows how he feels, and only he can make that choice. I suppose that is the key word here – choice. Everyone is different, and everyone deals with things differently. It is not anybody’s place to make that decision for someone else. In Will’s case, it is not up to his family, or Lou, to change his mind. This is his decision, and his decision alone, and that is what this story is about.
Apologising for my rant and moving away from the disability aspect of the story, I really enjoyed the writing style. Lou’s narrative and way of speaking reminded me of myself, and I’ve not read a book like that in a long time, probably not since I was reading young adult stuff. I was truly absorbed in her as a character. Will was also very charming, reminding me of a young Hugh Grant in a sort of irresistible way. It was such an easy read, and all of the characters were so realistic. I loved the secondary characters of Lou’s family; the chapters of her at home constantly making me laugh. For these reasons, it was a very difficult book to put down. Other than a slight pause for my birthday weekend, I absolutely raced through it in a couple of days and enjoyed every page.
I have to admit, I was expecting this to be slightly milder chic-lit, but it was actually so much more than that. The story really made you think, and is one that will stay with me for a while. Although the ending was slightly predictable, that wasn’t really a problem. The love story aspect of this isn’t what makes it such a good book. The predictability of the story also prevented me from getting overly emotional. I didn’t cry, which was a shock for me, as I’m usually quite a soppy reader. That being said, I was very moved.
I am definitely interested in reading more Jojo Moyes, and I will be purchasing the sequel to Me Before You, After You, as soon as it is released in paperback later this month. I’ll also probably see the film. I think this will transfer really well onto screen, as the prose is almost screenplay-like in style. I’m only hoping they remember what this book is really about, and resist the temptation to turn it into a soppy love story.
8/10 – Solid