It’s the book that everyone’s been talking about for the past couple of months – Me Before You, written by the wonderful JoJo Moyes. The hype surrounding this novel is likely to have something to do with the film that has recently been released, depicting Moyes words on screen for the world to see. So, naturally, I just had to read it to see what it was all about for myself.
** Warning: The rest of this post contains spoilers **
The first thing to say is that this book is not for the faint hearted – it contains very real themes surrounding assisted suicide, disability and depression. Moyes very successfully incorporates these themes through the view of the Will Traynor’s hired care assistant, Louisa Clark.
Will, having lead a very successful life and career in London, was unfortunately left severely disabled after being the pedestrian in a motorbike accident. The novel does not immediately disclose these details, and this is due to the fact that it is not written from Will’s point of view. Instead, the reader discovers details as Louisa does, a simple young woman who simply took the care assistant job to support her family after losing the job she truly loved in a cafe. Perhaps it is Louisa’s lack of interest in the job initially that results in the beginning of the novel being slightly slow in revealing the key themes of the novel, but this only adds to the realism that not everything in life is immediately obvious. For Louisa, she could only view Will as an ungrateful and moody individual who actively made her job more difficult, especially given that she was hired to keep him company and cheer him up. Indeed, she becomes increasingly frustrated at Will’s unwillingness to cooperate with her attempts to make his days somewhat brighter and more interesting, not realising the true reason that Will had no interest in this.
It is not until around halfway through the book that it becomes apparent that Will is suicidal, having unsuccessful suicide attempts in the past. The plot thickens when Louisa finds out that she had actually been hired to try and dissuade Will from going to Dignitas in Switzerland to finally end his life. After initially struggling to come to terms with this, she realises that her slight attachment to Will means that she did not want to see him die and so embarks upon a mission to show Will a more positive side to life. The reader is taken on a journey through Louisa’s attempts to plan fun trips that are suitable for someone in a wheelchair, all the time concentrating on the fact that even for someone who is a quadriplegic, life can still have its perks. This is clearly Moyes showing and engaging the reader in the main reason that so many people are opposed to assisted suicide – to engage the reader in this is to encourage them to want Will to live a full and happy life, despite his condition.
Moyes does, of course, have an ending that perhaps could have been predicted from the start; that despite the trip of a lifetime and finding love in Louisa, Will still had no desire to continue living his life and eventually takes his life in Dignitas. However, by firstly engaging the reader in Louisa’s point of view that life can still be good for someone who is almost completely paralysed, Moyes shows the tension between the arguments for both and against assisted suicide. It becomes clear that, no matter how hard it is for family or friends to accept or deal with a loved one wanting to die, it is infinitely harder for that person to accept continuing to live. By portraying Will’s story through Louisa’s eyes, it is easy for the reader to sympathise with both Louisa and Will, yet having to accept the final decision, no matter how much they have become attached to the characters and the love story associated with them.
It is the saddest of endings. It is an issue that no one wants to address. It will always be a situation with conflicting views and jigsaw pieces that will never join together. But, as Moyes demonstrates, one that must be discussed at length in order to give more control to people who feel that there is no other way out; for those who no longer have any reason to continue living, no matter how much goodness in the world that they are shown. For someone in Will’s situation, this made little difference as he was still in constant pain and was still dependent on another person – no amount of holidays, bungee jumping experiences or love was going to fix that.
Although I could have guessed the ending, given that the novel’s sequel is entitled ‘After You’, I was still taken on an emotional rollercoaster of a journey. Through Moyes’ amazing writing skills, I was rooting for Will to choose to live and became wrapped up in Louisa’s somewhat ignorant views regarding such a choice; it was only at the end of the novel that I was able to truly recognise that my opinion, Louisa’s opinion, or anyone else’s opinion did not matter – this was Will’s choice.
Forced to accept this through Moyes’ clever writing skills and techniques, I cried non-stop for the last few chapters. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel which will, no doubt, take me on another journey of understanding grief and loss – in fact, I’ve already bought it.