"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review #51: Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes

I've been sitting on this review for awhile now, and not just because I procrastinate with the best of them when it comes to my reviews, but because I honestly do not know how I feel about this book. I think I know how I'm supposed to feel about it, but I'm not even a hundred percent sure of that.

I'm sure you know the story, especially since the movie came out a few months ago. Quiet, shy, relatively poor Louisa loses her job at the local diner, and finds herself answering a help wanted ad for a companion for a quadriplegic. Will Traynor, former Master of the Universe, is the man in need of companionship, having been relegated to a wheelchair after a freak car accident stole the use of most of his body. They could not be more different - where Lou is sweet, Will is acerbic; where Lou's family struggles to make ends meet, Will's family has enough money to buy the town - and yet, somehow, magically, they find themselves falling in love. But Will wants to kill himself, and that's where the conflict comes in.

On the surface, the novel is fine. It's an interesting premise - what happens when or if love isn't enough - and Moyes has a perfectly serviceable writing style. I think that most of the backlash from this book (and movie) has been about Will's ultimate choice: his decision to end his life because he's a paraplegic. The argument is that Moyes paints the paraplegia as life-ending, that someone in a wheelchair can't live a full and happy life. But I don't think that's what Moyes intended for the reader to think. I don't think that's why Will wants to kill himself. Above and beyond the wheelchair and the paralysis, Will is suffering, and he's suffering greatly. Imagine that every movement is steeped in pain, that every meal is a battle, that just going to the bathroom, let alone out to dinner or the store, is a challenge of epic proportions and requires more planning and baggage than most people's weekend trips to the beach. Will is tired, tired down to his very bones, and no amount of starry-eyed love is going to make that better. Is his desire to end his life any different from the woman who is suffering from terminal cancer and doesn't want to live trapped in a body that no longer works? Or the man who lays down after his wife of sixty years dies and wills himself to join her in death? Would we condemn them as so many have condemned Will? 

My issues with the book are focused on other things. I have some nits to pick with some of the secondary characters and I felt like Moyes needed to spend some more time on them, making them a little bit less heavy handed and perhaps more nuanced. I couldn't stand Lou's boyfriend Patrick; he was all wrong for Lou, it made no sense that they were even together in the first place, and I had nothing invested in them as a couple. I wanted Patrick to go away. He was simultaneously dull and the character who made me the most angry. He was, basically, a controlling, selfish, self-centered bore. Lou's parents and sister were fine, but they were not well-fleshed out and I wished we had had some more scenes with them. There was opportunity there, especially with Lou's sister, to build some good relationships, but Moyes let the pitch go by. The secondary characters in Will's life, though - his parents and his nurse - were more finely drawn and I felt like the reader had a much better understanding of their motives. 

But mainly, I kind of didn't like Will. Like Patrick, I found him to be controlling and selfish and self-centered. I love a good alpha male as much as the next girl, but this went beyond that. Even in death, it felt like he still controlled Lou. And this was only exacerbated by Moyes' decision to make Lou extraordinarily meek and mild throughout most of the book, even going so far as to give Lou a backstory involving a sexual assault that in a weird way took me out of the story. I couldn't tell if that was in there to explain Lou's reluctance to leave the village or if Moyes felt like she needed more pages, but it seemed incongruous with the rest of the novel. 

Having said all of this, I still cried like a baby at the final scenes between Will and Lou, even though I nearly tossed the book across the room when I got to the epilogue and realized that Will was still calling all the shots.

So I don't know. All this, and I still don't know how I feel about the book.

I think I'll skip the sequel though.

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