Jojo Moyes‘ novel Me Before You was first published in 2012, and has by now gained stratospheric attention by readers worldwide. Millions of copies of this delicate romantic drama have been sold and June will see a major film adaptation of this story being released in cinemas across the globe.
A story like no other, Me Before You is a heartbreaking account tinted with moments of humour and laughter, detailing an impossible situation that leaves the ill-fated unlikely hero and heroine without a proper chance.
The preface introduces us to Will Traynor – handsome, adventurous, successful. However on this particular morning, an unfortunate road accident will leave him almost totally paralysed.
The story then switches to the life and viewpoint of Louisa (Lou) Clark, and with the exception of a couple of chapters, we see the drama unfold through her eyes. When the cafe she serves in closes up, she applies at the Job Centre for any possible positions. After suffering stints at a chicken processing factory, as a Home Energy Advisor and even in a fast food chain, she eventually accepts a position as carer to a disabled man who turns out to be a now very cynical Will.
Will’s first request is that Lou becomes “un-chatty” and she quickly finds that he’s almost always in a foul mood. But when the two get used to each other, a bond emerges that leaves Lou’s “ordinary looking” and aloof boyfriend Patrick looking much like an antagonist to Will’s good looks and intelligent sparring contests. Together, Lou and her new found friend and mentor find their life changing in ways they couldn’t have foretold, therefore embracing and confirming the novel’s title. Still, the narrative poses a nagging question, asking outright whether life really is worth living in whatever situation you find yourself.
The author brings her characters to life in such a way that you can’t help but fall in love with them. She gives us all the characters’ views, even at times changing the narrator in order to give different angles of what’s going on. This might be to ensure that her precious creations don’t suffer hostility from the reader for their actions as they would if we were given only one side of the story.
Even in subtle facts such as the different characters’ choice of gift for Louisa on her birthday, Moyes conveys the types of relationship that her heroine has with the people that make up her world. The author further enhances the reader’s emotions by playing on the heartstrings, toying with us by comparing this literary world to our own. As a mother myself, she made me feel Mrs Traynor’s pain and helplessness in the face of her son’s fate and decisions. In the same way, she bade me enter Patrick’s flat with her exact description of Louisa’s feelings when she moved in, making me feel her discomfort as my own. Just as vividly, she reminds us over and over of Will’s condition, and juxtapositions it against the tentative feeling that together, Will and Lou can do anything and be anyone they want.
When I had read Me Before You with the intention of reviewing it, I expected to cry along the way given the subject matter. I also did expect to clearly picture in my mind both the main characters, given I had already watched the first teaser trailer to MGM’s upcoming film version of the story. What I didn’t expect was to be so sad at having finished the book whilst at the same time being finally relieved of the burden that comes with reading about characters that kept me up nights, haunted by the memory of what I would’ve just read. What started out as an assignment turned into an extraordinary journey where I lived alongside the characters, laughing and crying at will, and bawling my eyes out by the end of it.
Jojo Moyes once wrote that many readers look to literary characters when they need a lift or a security blanket in life. Well, Will Traynor has become my go-to persona, for he, more than any other fictional figure I’ve ever encountered, changes our perception of life and life’s nuisances, whilst inspiring us to try whatever we feel we should and embrace life and live it to the full, lest we ever find ourselves unable to do so.
A copy of Me Before You was kindly provided by Agenda Bookshop. At the time of writing, this novel secured second place in Agenda’s best seller list.