publication date: 2013
When critics state that a novel, such as Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full, is “ambitious” (see this review and this review), I always think, “Oh, you mean long. And boring.” But Me Before You is actually ambitious, in that the book wants to accomplish many things.
Me Before You begins in the London flat of rich stock trader Will Traynor. He is planning a weekend getaway with his young and hot girlfriend; he is completely content in his life. But, as he walks out the door of his apartment, he gets hit by a motorcycle. The prologue ends with him lying on the street, unconscious.
Move forward two years and we meet Louisa Clark, an adrift twenty-something who just lost her job at the local café. She hears about a job as a health aide with a local well-to-do family, the Traynors, helping the eldest Traynor, who is now quadriplegic. She accepts the job and begins working with Will, who is now severely injured. At this point, you could be thinking that this is just a simple, although slightly uncommon, love story. You would be right. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, either. Instead, Jojo Moyes crams the book full of weighty themes, including rape, euthanasia, rights for disabled people, class politics, and body image issues. Surprisingly, Moyes manages to explore these topics while still keeping the engaging love story the center of the novel.
One of the reasons Moyes is generally so effective in her investigation of this hefty subject matter is her obvious passion. She is clearly very interested, perhaps personally so, with disability and euthanasia. Unfortunately, sometimes that passion crosses over into moralizing. For example, in one passage, Louisa is planning things for her and Will to do and she literally sets forth a list of things a quadriplegic cannot do, such as riding the tube because it doesn’t have elevators or going shopping or to friends’ houses because most buildings don’t have ramps. A writer should be able to send her message without being so didactic.
Moyes also manages to keep Me Before You from spinning ambitiously out of control by imbuing her characters with engaging and realistic personality traits. The two main characters, Will and Louisa, are funny, charming, and flawed and have great chemistry. They are legitimately funny, instead of that Oh-trust-me-they’re-funny-wink-wink dialogue that often occurs in books where the characters laugh at what each other are saying but the reader never does. And the two can be very sweet to each other.
The book is not pitch-perfect, though. As mentioned above, it can be preachy. Further, Moyes exhibits a disdain for people who are family-oriented and don’t care to travel. There were also some nagging gender issues that had me convinced this book could not have worked if the genders had been reversed. Overall, though, a very pleasant, surprising love story.
4/6: worth reading (really, this book is good. I just couldn’t quite give it a 5/6)
Here are some other reviews: