Thoughts: Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

I’m only… eight years late?

Well, let’s get stuck in. Spoilers abound, probably.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this one – it was a huge phenomenon back in the day, but it wasn’t really for me, if you know what I mean? I watched it from the outside as it was beloved and then went through that backlash that all overly-praised things seemingly must go through, and there was a film, and now it’s all settled down. Which I’m glad of, because presumably my opinions are wrong.

I liked it an awful lot more than I thought I would. My mam recommended it to me, and I inhaled it in the way I used to inhale some of her chick-lit (are we still allowed to call it that?) when I lived at home and it was lying around. After Son of Tarzan and the bit of Tristan et Iseut I read (I’ve been spacing that out between books because it’s an insane slog) it was such an easy read, and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. I just devoured it. The voice was engaging without being irritating, and walked this really nice line of being relatable without falling into that certain kind of self-deprecation, of clumsiness or an over-reliance on wine, or an all-consuming love of shoes. The protagonist was snarky about people when she was out of her depth, a little bit mean but in a way that I also probably would have been mean.

The story itself walked a lot of delicate lines, and did several things well that I’ve seen done badly a lot. Poor woman meeting rich man. Working class woman stuck in financial/energy trap. People changing and being changed by each other for the better without becoming manic pixie dream people.

Plot summary: Lou has just lost her job at a little cafe, and ends up as a paid companion to a rich, handsome quadriplegic man. Can I make it any more obvious?

Obviously things aren’t that simple. Lou finds herself the sole breadwinner of her extended family, parents, grandfather, sister and nephew, all squashed into one house, and their financial needs and employment anxiety are ever-present in Lou’s mind and life. She also has an increasingly terrible boyfriend she stays with out of inertia. Will, the rich, handsome quadriplegic man, has a relentlessly difficult life, an actual nurse in addition to Lou, and a Dignitas-shaped secret with a deadline.

I think Moyes delved into the realities of severe disability – especially as they appear to someone naive and able-bodied (into which category I admit I fall) – well, and was uncompromising on the wishful thinking Hollywood hopefulness. But I also feel like I should say that just because something is bleak doesn’t make it necessarily more worthy/realistic/better, which is another pitfall to avoid. Though Will is the only disabled character we meet, we do get to hear other voices on the internet forum that Lou finds and frequents for support and information, which is important. We get to see alternatives to Will’s choice. And it feels personal – it suits his personality.

Oh, and I’m not going to waste time writing an essay on The Choice. You might think I’m ignoring the elephant in the room, but I’m just not really interested in debating it in public? I can quite happily chew it over in my own mind.

So, yes, a lot of the story is Lou doing things that she’s never done before, overcoming a past trauma, widening her horizons etc. And a lot of the story is Will overcoming his pride and feelings of futility to do things he would never have considered doing, and letting himself be happy. But them both doing that, using each other, felt more organic and less like one character was a two-dimensional prop for the enrichment of the other’s life.

I’m not going to go over the book club questions at the end either, about how Lou’s trauma and Will’s trauma are similar and different, and how they cope similarly or differently. I’m not really a book club question kind of person. I did all that in my GCSEs, and I did it well enough for a lifetime.

One thing I wish had been gone into more was Will’s understanding of the class thing, and also of women, because he was sorely lacking and Lou wasn’t in much of a position to explain in a way he’d accept. I’m going to say it – a lot of the time, Will was a dickhead. From his insistence that women only want alpha males (“I read it in a book!”) to his declaration that he got where he was through hard work and determination (!!!) I wanted to shake him. The book thing triggered some incel red flags, though I guess incels weren’t a thing back then? and his hard work nonsense was just so… I mean yes, of course he worked hard and was determined, but to ignore the fact that Lou was supporting her entire family and did not have the money or leisure to have enjoyed an extended period of schooling, and couldn’t really have left home to do whatever she wanted to do because her parents’ financial situation was so precarious (also he was in fancy London business so I know he was aware of the 2008 recession and subsequent austerity politics) was just… Okay. Whatever.

I would just love to know what he would have done if he – with all his Business Dreams – had been raised in Lou’s place. What choices would he have made differently? How would he have opened up those opportunities that would have been closed to him? No answer. Because it’s a book. I know.

Another thing is it felt a little dated culture-wise, especially in regards to technology and how it was used, but the book’s from 2012, and my memory’s short and things change fast. I guess people were still texting in 2012, and there were still travel agents, and people still used internet forums regularly.

I found the story compelling, and though yes, the absence of Will’s point of view (though we get his parents’ and nurse’s points of view in various chapters) was noticeable and quite a big gap, and yes, in general we need more stories from the point of view of people who are disabled, I don’t think this is a bad addition to the conversation.

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