Book Club: Me Before You By Jojo Moyes

The heart-warming story of two people who overcome their own reservations, forming an unlikely friendship under tragic circumstances

Lou Clarke is comfortable. Comfortable with living at home with her parents in their little town, comfortable with her passionless relationship with fitness-obsessed boyfriend Patrick, comfortable with her stable job at local café The Buttered Bun, comfortable with her routine. But, that’s all about to change.

Lou’s world is turned upside down when she loses her job, forcing her out of her comfort zone and away from everything she knows. Conscious of the fact that she is relied on financially – and after multiple disheartening trips to the job centre – Lou reluctantly agrees to take on a six month role as carer to a quadriplegic man.

As far as he was concerned, Will Trainor had it all: a high-powered, high-paid city job, a hot girlfriend, and a bright future. He loved to travel and indulge in high-octane hobbies – a regular adrenaline junkie. However, an unfortunate accident leaves the handsome hot-shot wheelchair bound; left to rely on a host of other people for the most basic of daily needs.

Trapped inside his own body, and a shadow of his former self, Will becomes increasingly desperate – feeling as though he’s lost everything. But, little do either of them know that what they come to find in each other will change them both in different ways, for the better.

I absolutely fell in love with Jojo Moyes’s story of love and loss and, having earned the accolade of New York Times bestseller, I’m not the only one. First published in 2012, ‘Me Before You’ has also been adapted into a film, starring Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games, Love Rosie) and Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones.) It’s a heart-warming, romantic and heart-breaking story – you’ll definitely need a box of tissues handy! However, despite this, there are also some lighter moments of comedy nestled throughout, in the form of will’s dry, sarcastic sense of humour and witty one-liners.

Throughout the course of the story, you see both the main protagonists grow, albeit in different ways. Readers see Lou coming out of her shell and broadening her horizons, becoming increasingly confident in her character and ability. We also discover, through a series of flashbacks, that Lou has had her own trauma which she has been quietly contending with for years, after an ill-advised escapade with some drunken strangers. Following a public panic attack, Lou opens up to Will who helps her accept that she was not to blame for what she went through. As she flourishes, she outgrows the stagnant baggage of her old life – moving forward.

As a character, readers experience and get to know Will through the eyes of Louisa. However, throughout the story are able to piece together, and get a feel for, Will’s background and life before that fateful accident. When Will meets Louisa he has become desolate and tries to push her, as well as everyone he knows, away; desperately frustrated by his circumstances. Slowly though, he becomes enchanted by Lou’s quirky personality and softens towards her, opening both of them up to an unexpected friendship which sees him become brighter and somewhat happier.

Will is keen to educate Lou and slowly, eases her out of the little bubble she has created for herself, showing her that there is more to life than she knows. He has seen and experienced more than she has, and now that he is physically unable, wants her to make the most of her life because she can – urging her to “just live well, just live.”

Spending a lot of time in close proximity due to the nature of Will’s condition, the pair begin to fall for each-other. However, while Lou is keen to inspire Will to make the best of his situation because of that, Will has resigned himself to the fact that his condition will only become progressively worse. Already unhappy with his current quality of life, Will decides that this new-found love isn’t enough to override the way he feels about himself and his future – with heart-breaking results.

‘Me Before You’ tackles some very sensitive subjects in a very clever way, taking into account all the relevant and realistic viewpoints across multiple characters – from the understanding to the less accepting. The story is mainly told from Lou’s point of view, but does give glimpses into the thoughts of other characters in dedicated chapters, such as Will’s nurse Nathan, Lou’s sister Treena, and Will’s mother Camilia. Moyes’s writing style is full of personality and is captivating throughout, enabling readers to get completely sucked into the story and its events – resulting in an extremely moving read.

I understand that the story (the film in particular) has received some negative attention, with it being said that it depicts disabled people as being a burden, and promotes that people would rather be dead than disabled. Personally, I found the book to show the harsh reality of living with such a debilitating condition. As a disabled person, I am in no way saying I would rather be dead than disabled – I wouldn’t. However, I’ve had my disability since birth, I’ve never known any different. I can’t imagine how it must feel to go from being completely able-bodied and active, to not even being able to move in your sleep. To not be able to feed yourself, to not be able to go to the toilet unaided, to never be able to have sex again – these are all things that Will is conscious of.

I felt that it was less about promoting assisted suicide and inviting pity, but shedding light on why people may choose that path. Ultimately it comes down to how you feel about yourself and your quality of life, in light of the fact that you aren’t going to get any better. It’s done in a way that allows readers to see all the conflicting reactions and opinions of the surrounding characters, whilst being able to understand and feel empathy for both Will and Louisa – making it all the more heart-wrenching.

 

Have you ever read ‘Me Before You’? What did you think of the story and its themes? I recently picked up the sequel ‘After You’, so I’m keen to find out how Lou’s story progresses.

 

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