I appreciate that I’m a few months late with this post – but it’s still an important one! Sometimes people (myself included) are sceptical about the latest trends. The same goes for books. Once something is hyped up by enough people, certain people want to steer well clear. I’ll admit, this was me when, a few months ago, the popularity of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, published 2012, exploded on the bestseller chart with the release of the trailer and subsequent film.
That’s not to say a negative word about Ms Moyes. I had had the pleasure of reading a proof copy of one of her other novels, One Plus One, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it to be light and readable, but contained enough real-world issues and touches of humour for it to be a read that I recommend to my customers at work. I just wasn’t captivated enough by the sounds of Me Before You to join the masses and (apparently) weep at this apparently amazing book. There were other books to read, for crying out loud!
But, you guessed it folks – I succumbed. And boy, am I glad that I did.
This is a rare book.
Rare, in that I find that it is the perfect blend of the important and the unimportant. It’s contemporary, political and yet infinitely readable. The characters are simultaneously likeable and unlikeable. The reader can recognise themselves, and yet coil away from the decisions that are made throughout the course of the plot. It’s funny and unbearably sad. It is romantic and it is horrific.
I made a pact not to watch the film trailer or the film itself until I had read the book. And this still stands – I went nowhere near the trailer while I was reading the book and I am still yet to see the film. So I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this book, unlike so many others who saw the trailer and instantly had to know what happened.
To very basically sum up what I believe to be common knowledge now, the storyline of Me Before You centres around the two main characters: Louisa Clark and Will Traynor. Louisa is a down-on-luck young woman who, upon losing her comfortable job at the local café, is left with no other option but to an accept a job for which she has no qualifications – to help care for Will Traynor. Will is a paralysed, wheelchair bound young man who has now become a shadow of his former self through the impact of a motorcycle accident.
At first, the relationship between the pair is disastrous. Will is bitter and resentful, and Louisa is quirky and sunny. However, the pair gradually begin to share more and more with each other. Will tells Louisa of his travels in his former life. Louisa tells of her childhood in her working-class family.
There are many more layers of complexity to this story – the looming shadow of Dignitas. The stark contrast between Louisa’s family and her living situation as compared to the wealth yet familial strain of the Traynors. The limp relationship between Louisa and her runner boyfriend Patrick. Will’s medical carer Nathan, the true unsung hero of the book.
But, to make a sweeping general statement, this book is at its heart about one thing only – life. The fundamentals of life, and what makes life worth living. The main criticism that has been levelled at this book is just how it views a “life worth living”, or, indeed, how exactly one can categorise this. Because, certainly, Louisa and Will’s lives are very different both at the point in time in which we meet them as readers, and prior to the beginning of the book. Will argues that the period of his life in which he was most fulfilled has ended, and that Louisa’s is only just beginning. However, Louisa argues that her life has always had meaning for her, no matter what her circumstance. We are left as readers, especially at the novel’s end, to decide for ourselves just how we view the meaning of our own lives, using Will’s life as a catalyst.
Needless to say, for a “romantic comedy/chick-lit” book, there’s a hell of a lot going on. I found it full-on, engrossing, thoroughly British and surprisingly amazing. It stayed with me for a long time after having read the final, gut-wrenching pages.
After You was the long anticipated sequel, published in 2015. This book saw readers join Louisa again a period after the end of its precursor.
I am not going to go into very much detail about After You, as it is somewhat dependent on the knowledge of what happens in Me Before You, except to say this: while it lacks the magic of its predecessor, it is certainly not without its moments. This book feels a touch more contrived than Me Before You, and I would not recommend reading it 100% to every single reader who enjoyed the first book. But it does throw a different light on the characters, and it does teach readers to look at situations differently and just how well we can deal with chaos and an upheaval of our world, even when we do not feel ourselves capable of doing so.
Jojo Moyes – believe the hype, people.