I have stated several times in previous reviews that I am not ordinarily drawn to romantic novels – they’re too often predictable, soppy, and boring.. However, after seeing much on social media about Me Before You which is being adapted for the big screen and seeing cast members and readers alike talking about how much they love this story, I felt like I had to read Me Before You. This book is fantastic. I want to yell from the rooftops for people to go out and get themselves a copy of this novel. Me Before You is a story about friendship, love, choices, and life, and it made me smile, laugh, and weep.
Jojo Moyes’ novel centres around Louisa Clarke. She is a twenty-six year old woman who has lived her entire life in the same small town. She has held the same job in a local cafe for years, until one day, the cafe closes down and she is left with no direction in life. She reluctantly takes a job as a carer to Will Traynor, a thirty-five year old quadriplegic, who has lost the will to live after a motorcycle accident two years previously. Although initially the two don’t get along at all and Louisa finds it difficult to break though Will’s stony exterior, the two form a strong bond. When Louisa discovers that Will is intent on taking his own life, she undertakes to make him change his mind, taking him on as many adventures as she can find, and while she show him a whole new world, Will helps Louisa to broaden her own horizons.
I was initially apprehensive about the story of this book, fearing that Me Before You would be an experiment in how much we could be made to pity Will. The truth is that there is so much more to this story. This is not a four-hundred page book sob story. Instead, this is a book about two people who would never have ordinarily met, forming an unbreakable bond. They may not have met each other if it wasn’t for Will’s accident, but his disability is not the main part of their relationship. In fact, at one point, Louisa even says that his body became “a thing to be dealt with” and “the least interesting part of him”. Will encourages Louisa to try new things from foreign films to scuba diving, and as a result, Louisa pushes him to try his former hobbies again, accompanying him to concerts and even pushing him to agree to a holiday. Furthermore, the really emotionally tough aspects of this book, such as Will’s suicidal thoughts, were dealt with in a subtle and genuine way that didn’t sensationalise or trivialise his feelings at all. Moyes did a great job at making us understand the views of all the characters and Will’s own way of thinking. I loved that right until the end of the novel, we are left guessing and yet the ending, when it comes, feels like it fits just right, like it couldn’t have ended in another way. Moyes doesn’t play the shock card when dealing with important issues, but deals with them subtly and compassionately.
The characters of Will and Louisa, as well as the various others in the story, all felt like realistic individuals. I like that despite Louisa being quite closed-minded and not venturing further than what she knows, Moyes didn’t make her a boring character, but just a character who needed a gentle shove in the right direction. I like that she explained Louisa’s way of being without using too many flashbacks or information dumps, but rather slowly showing us how Louisa’s experiences and family life makes her feel tied down to her family home. Similarly, Will’s character was also largely clear to understand without many flashbacks, in fact, there is only one flashback right at the beginning of the novel. Instead, through the use of objects around the house like photographs, conversations with past friends, and a few lines of dialogue, we could understand exactly what he had lost. A standout line for me was the line where he and Louisa return from the concert, and he expresses his wish to forget everything, and just be “a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress.” In this way, we could understand the characters without it feeling like we’re being forced to see them in a particular way by the author.
Moyes also did a fabulous job with the secondary characters in the book, from Louisa’s family and boyfriend Patrick to Will’s own family and friends. In particular, I think that Moyes brilliantly captured the dynamics among the families so that they felt ordinary and familiar. Particularly Louisa’s family felt so realistic, from her parents doing everything they can to make their family comfortable, to Louisa’s love-hate relationship with her sister Katrina. I loved how Moyes included a few chapters from the point of view of these other characters spread out throughout the book. It was a great way to get us inside their heads of characters like Will’s parents, carer Nathan, and Katrina, without dividing up all of the chapters among them and therefore keeping the focus on Louisa and Will.
The relationship between Will and Louisa was so much fun to read. Jojo Moyes captured a lightness and humour in their dialogue that made their conversations feel real and genuine. Will’s cruel sarcasm in the opening chapters of the book slowly becomes what turns into a back-and-forth joking with Louisa, and in this way, we can slowly see their relationship develop without it needing to be spelt out to us. Rather, it isn’t until quite near the end of the book that the friendship between Louisa and Will takes a more romantic turn, rather than these feelings simply being suggested.
I really cannot think of a single complaint against this book. It was easy to read and the characters all felt familiar, as if I knew them myself. I loved how we got to know the characters of Will and Louisa so well without any information dumps, and that Will’s disability wasn’t as defining to the central relationship as I feared it would be. When I picked it up, Me Before You conjured up images of TV movies which forcefully pull your heartstrings, but really, it was much more subtle and emotional. Me Before You is not a story about disability, it is a love story about bonds transcending boundaries, physical or not, and about how one person can change your outlook.