Author: Jojo Moyes
Pages: 369 (hardcover)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
Lady Esbe’s Score:
“Lou Clark knows a lot 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 color. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.” – from the Goodreads novel blurb.
Lady Esbe’s Review
I read this book for another book club. First, let me say the writing was bloody fantastic (British writer). She brought some very emotional and tough questions. Questions that I don’t even really have the answer to for myself, if I were in the same predicament.
The novel begins with Will Traynor, a 33 year old corporate raider who is at the top of his world with many interests and hobbies that we are not made aware of until later in the novel. Suffice it to say he was daring and adventurous with his bungee jumping, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and other world travels. Unfortunately for Will, all these adventures ended when he was involved in motorcycle accident as a pedestrian, resulting in him becoming quadriplegic. For those who are unaware, as I was, quadriplegia comes with a whole host of issues that would prove daunting to the most daring of us. A question asked first is, “how can you live a life that is not even a fraction of your former life?” The main question that Ms. Moyes shines the light on is, “how can you live a life that is fraught with so many debilitating challenges?” Not only has Will lost functionality of both legs and only has minimal functionality in one arm/hand, he unfortunately feels pain, which is almost constant but more tolerable on some days than others, along with heat/ cold with the inability to regulate his body temperature. He must put up with the occasional bouts of pneumonia, infections, ever increasing loss of functionality of his body. However, for Will the biggest loss is the ability to make any decisions for himself, except one.
We are not privy to Will’s “decision” until later in the novel and we learn, quite on accident as his caregiver learns of his desire to travel to Switzerland to commit medically assisted suicide, as it is illegal in Great Britain, but perfectly legal in Switzerland. I found myself completely understanding his position and thinking, “if that is the life I had to look forward to, even when I don’t do half the things that Will did, I do believe I would feel the same hopelessness and desire to exert one modicum of control over my life, since it is, the only thing I can control.” Will is dogmatic in his pursuit and anyone who has the audacity to attempt to change his mind is in for a rude awakening.
When Louisa Clark arrives on the scene, it has been two years since Will’s accident. While Will is from the upper class, Louisa is firmly in the working class, they’ve grown up in the in same town, with Louisa being eight years his junior, they never ran in the same circles. At the ripe age of 26, Louisa is an unambitious, young woman who was recently laid off from her job at the café across from the local tourist attraction of the castle, due the café’s closing. As many people find themselves in the situation, Louisa must find a suitable job quickly and was hired on a six month basis to be Will’s nonmedical caregiver/companion. Now, I must say, there should have been alarm bells to anyone reading or being hired into the position, that all is not what it seems. Unfortunately, Louisa isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer or quite naïve and the question on a short term contract to a very long term situation never occurs to her. She is met with resistance and sarcasm from Will, understandable. I honestly believe, that Will’s demeanor can be construed as combative and sarcastic, but I could absolve him of this, after all, look at his life now. To add to the matters, he has this now strangely dressing and awkwardly acting young woman in charge of his care. However, Will isn’t the only one damaged in this relationship. We are later clued in on Louisa’s trauma that happened several years earlier that has caused her to let her world shrink to just her village and family. Despite the rough start the pair become amenable to one another and things change when Louisa overhears the conversation between Will’s mother and sister regarding his decision. This bit of eavesdropping prompts her to take matters into her own hands to convince Will that he could have a life worth living. This misguided attempt brings about some disasters and wonderful adventures. In the end, is what she shows him enough to make him change his mind?
There are several supporting characters that are really annoying to me but I can understand their predicament and feelings on the matter. From Camilla Traynor, mother to Will, who only wants her child to live and be happy, to his philandering father, Steven, who just wants a resolution to the situation. Will’s sister makes a brief appearance and is no less selfish than the rest of the cadre of characters. We also have Louisa’s family (mom, dad, sister, grandfather, nephew and idiot boyfriend) as focal points to put perspective on Louisa’s less than glamorous and quite shambolic life. No matter the character, I think the title says it all “Me Before You” is everyone’s concern. Will’s desire to die with dignity (in his opinion) trumps, his mother’s wishes, his new found love with Louisa and others who could be directly affected by his decision. Louisa’s affection, growth and new found love of Will makes her believe that her feelings should trump his decision. Camilla thinks that her position as mother should trump Will’s decision. More mundanely, Louisa’s sister, Treena, thinks that the world revolves around her and her son’s needs and wants than what is best for Louisa and other members of the family. Even more mundane and quite annoying in fact, is Louisa’s single-minded boyfriend, Patrick, who lives for his triathlons and doesn’t think about anyone’s feelings but his own when it boils down to the point.
This book is told from several people’s point of view and shines a light into their attitudes and interactions with Will or Louisa. The story is mostly told from Louisa’s perspective and while you are rooting for her to change Will’s mind and you can see the disasters for what they are and see the slow development of feelings for each other, you can’t quite reconcile that she is this naive at the age of 26. I rather thought her behavior more like a sixteen year old at times, becoming petulant and pouty at things that were truly unfair but handled in the most immature manner. I rallied in Will and Louisa’s triumphs and crashed hard with their failures (or I should say Louisa’s failed attempts). I like that the author put in Camilla’s perspective so we wouldn’t judge her so harshly or be so indifferent to her as I was in the beginning of the novel. To me, there was nothing value added in adding his father’s perspective other than to see that his ulterior motives were even more selfish than that of his wife. I like that the medical caregiver, Nathan gave us a little insight into what he saw, to give us an “insider’s” view of how things were developing. I didn’t care for Treena’s commentary other than her being supportive of her sister in the end. I couldn’t work out who irritated me more, Treena or Patrick. Possibly Treena because she was so predominant, but she did have a few qualities that put her ahead of Patrick, in that she did support her sister, despite her selfishness and single-mindedness that caused me to like her just a little by the end. Whereas, Patrick is just a self-absorbed, jealous, idiot of a man that had me rooting for the sarcastic, wheelchair bound man from the word go.
There is growth and understanding on both main character’s part. There is a development of concern, respect and love that grows for the other that has you hoping for the best and fearing the worst. I love that Louisa was the only person that could get Will to do something as simple as accepting a haircut (even though she admitted she didn’t do very well when she trained as a hairstylist…I was very worried for him) and shave, that she got him to venture past his small domicile that seemed to become his prison. I liked even more that Will made Louisa expand her horizons through sharing his love of films and books with her, along with the occasional venture to the odd classical music concert or wedding of his ex-girlfriend to his once best friend. I like how they bolstered the other up in the face of opposition. However, one of the best scenes for me was Louisa’s birthday party. Will made the effort and showed up to her parent’s home, Louisa’s father had been accommodating and built a ramp. Upon Will’s arrival, they saw more than a man in a wheelchair, he was charming, funny and downright incorrigible at times, but it was in good fun. However, even with Patrick’s idiotic and self- absorbed rantings at Will and the apparent jealousy that crept up because he noticed “how much physical contact there must be.” Yes, feeding someone can be an intimate act. However, when one of the said parties cannot lift an arm or hand to feed oneself, then the third party should probably get a grip. Patrick is so out of tune with Louisa, that he buys her a gift that she wouldn’t remotely like. However, Will listened to her and had a custom made present for her, not only because he is well to do, but because in the two months he had known her, they came to respect and understand each other. Her excitement over her gift was fun and funny and the fact that she donned it immediately should have been a clue to her that it wasn’t just an employer/employee relationship or that they were just friends, this is someone who truly cared about her.
This is a fast paced book once you get past the initial odd few chapters. I liked Louisa, however, there were times I wanted to throttle her. She grew during the course of the novel. I think Will found a bit of himself again with Louisa around. However, could he find enough of himself? I can honestly say, I never gave too much thought to euthanasia. Of course, I grew up hearing about the odd Kevorkian interventions, but I never truly gave it thought. In fact, before this book, I didn’t think beyond a quadriplegic’s inability to move or only having minor movements. This book was an education of their plight and my understanding grew as well as my empathy. Could I go from being fully functional to having to have everyone do everything for me? Could I live with people making decisions that I wouldn’t make for myself in the same way? Could I put my parents through going to Switzerland because I couldn’t stand to live my life that way? Honestly, this book is making me think of drawing up a living will. I know what I want and how I want to live and how I don’t want to live.
I’ll end with this. If you want an emotional story that is educational, entertaining and just heart wrenching at points, then this is definitely a book you should read. I challenge you to read it and think beyond yourself, to consider those around you. Consider what you would do in any one of the character’s situation. I challenge you to make some tough decisions so that those around you will not have to bear them. If you feel you have decisions that should be made so that you can take the burden off of others, DO IT! Also, if you decide to go the route of euthanasia, what does that not only mean for your family emotionally, but legally? What type of danger are you putting them into? I think this book touches on selfishness in a way that truly makes you think long and hard. I would love for a movie adaptation to come along (with Richard Armitage playing Will, Helen Mirren as Camilla, Bill Nighy as Steven…not sure who should play Louisa just yet). If you read it, be sure to have a box of tissues handy the last several chapters of the book.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.