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Book review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Oh my, this is so not my usual sort of book.  It’s got pink on the cover both in the design AND in the writing.  Also some starry things. And when someone asked me at work what I was reading (we have fifteen minutes reading time at work, twice a week!) I made some non-descript noises because I’d just started it and was finding the language difficult to come to terms with, ie a bit functional! But, I was to find out, effective.

The story follows Lou Clark, twenty-seven year old café worker still living with her parents and sister, through redundancy and into a job working for the moneyed Traynor family, caring for their quadraplegic son, Will, who was injured one day in a car accident on his way to his high powered City job. Will, in despair at his situation, has tried to kill himself; Lou’s job, although she does not find out until some way into the story, is to care for Will, but also to lead him out of his despair.

Well, today I don’t even have to look for a real life issue to talk about in my review. The book is brimming with them.

Moyes creates a wonderfully sensitive portrait of life caring for a quadraplegic, detailing the everyday frustrations of the impossibility of doing things the able bodied take for granted. I imagine that a great deal of research went into imagining this part of the narrative. Not just the life of the quadraplegic, but the well-meaning, but ultimately disastrous ideas of what an able-bodied thinks is a good day out for someone in a wheelchair.

The minor characters could have been more fully fleshed out. Lou’s nephew has to be the least troublesome house occupant in the history of five-year-olds, to the point where one suspects the use of Ritalin. Will’s parents are but a symbol of the repressed, moneyed upper classes; I am not sure real people like this exist.

However the strengths and joys of the books are in the central characters, Will and Lou, and also in the “best friend” characters (think about the role Horatio performs in Hamlet), Nathan, Will’s nurse, and Treen, Lou’s sister. Lou starts off surprisingly insipid compared with those around her, almost colourless. She’s got a non-job, a non-life. The most noticeable thing about her is that she’s a bit awkward and wears quirky clothes, which make you wonder what sort of a heroine she is supposed to be. But after a while, you realise that this is the point. Moyes cleverly contrasts Lou’s reluctance to really live the life she has been granted, with Will’s inability to live the life he wants to and indeed used to.

Moyes then explores the Lou’s reasons for having become this person so someone desperately seeking safety. And touchingly explores what it is like when two people talk about the darkest parts of themselves and find a connection. Because, as Will points out, most people do not want to know about the inner darkness of a man who will live for ever more totally within the confines of his on body. These thoughts are too frighteningly final.

I had been warned that this book could be an emotional journey by the ever reliable Paperback Princess. And you can probably guess that the question of suicide does not go away. Characters put forth passionate arguments on both sides for and against person’s right to choose the circumstances in which they die. Moyes is skilled at doing this in a natural, unforced manner.

This was a sad read, but also affirming and inspiring. The character of Will was impassioned in his arguments for living, and in regard to his vision for his own life. Through its characters, this book will bring to you large issues, in a way that is vividly framed in human form.

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12 Comments

  1. Exactly! All of this! I’m glad you enjoyed it, despite the pink cover – mine is bright red!

    Reading this now brings me back to all the feelings I had when I first finished reading it. I miss Will and Lou!

    Thanks for the shout out!

    • No problem – you’ve been part of my reintroduction into a passion for reading.

      I was intrigued by the way I could identify so well with the psychologies of the characters, and that this was able to replace for me the atmosphere-painted-with-words that I usually like to float me away into a different world. Yes, great characters.

  2. Sounds like a very heavy read but great review Denise as always,
    By the way, nothing whatsoever to do with this post but had to ask. I noticed that you have a bloglovin’ button on your blog and I am just a bit curious as to what that means? Sorry for my techy ignorance… ;-)

    • It was emotional, but quite lightly done – characters had a lot of spark.

      I thought if I got into Bloglovin, I could connect with people who don’t use WordPress to write their blogs. But the Bloglovin’ reader is nowhere near as easy to use as WordPress :-( So I joined it, put the gizmo thing on my page and seem to have almost straightaway abandoned it. The main thing is, it’s so difficult to search by topic. I like that with WordPress, you just shove in your tag and find loads of new stuff.

      • Oh, I see! Thanks for letting me know about it. I have seen it on other blogs too and I was very curious, so now I know :-) Sorry though it doesn’t seem to be working out for you just now :-(

  3. Haven’t read this one – for exactly the reason you mentioned first – too pink! How shallow is that. After your excellent and balanced review, I think I might give it a second chance!

    • I definitely judge a book by its cover. I can’t help it! I do think in this case the cover was a little mismatched to the content BUT I can see a publisher might have lost their nerve over scaring away the perceived “chick-lit” crowd they might be chasing with this book.

  4. I’m guessing that’s the British cover as the one I’ve seen here is a red cover with just the title on it. Not sure if I would pick it up based on this pink cover though!

    I read Moyes’ The Last Letter from Your Lover some months ago – couldn’t get hold of Me Before You (too long a queue for the library copy) – and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

    • Yes I am envious at your red cover, while I had to have this pink book on my desk at work for a while. To be fair, I’ve no better ideas myself on how to illustrate it.

      But really the story more than made up for it!

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