Me Before You and Before Me, You

Jojo MoyesLet’s get it out in the open. I cry. I’m a weeper. I need my chocolate, my tissue box and my pillow. That said though, I challenge anyone to read “Me Before You” and emerge unscathed. Oh, Jojo Moyes is brutal. She lulls you into believing you’re reading about two regular people falling in love in a decidedly cold-fishy English way and WHAM! The next thing you know, you’re weeping into a pillow, blubbering about stubbornly wonderful men, bumblebee tattoos and wondering whether foreign films hold the secret to life. True story.[1]

Jojo Moyes is not a literary giant. But she’s a storyteller. And she tells one hell of a story.

Louisa Clark is just another middle class working girl in sleepy Stortfold who has hit hard times.  She is at first glance a forgettable, easily ignored creature except for her eccentric taste in clothes and chatty nature, both of which she wields as a shield against her well-meaning but dysfunctional family and her delusional marathon-running, spandex wearing boyfriend. She has no plans, no dreams and no job.  In a desperate attempt to salvage her family’s dwindling financial reserves, she takes up a job as a carer to a 35 year old quadriplegic – Will Traynor.

Will is not an easy man to describe. He’s acerbic but charming. He’s difficult but sweet. He’s bossy but helpless. Will has lived a life as large as Louisa’s was small. He cut deals, jumped off mountains, charmed leggy women, and travelled the world. But he is no longer that man. He’s Will, the cripple. Will, the invalid. Angry Will. Lou is charged with the haunting responsibility of infusing life in this bitter, sarcastic, impossible man who wants to die.

It seems like cruel irony that Louisa doesn’t know how to live and Will no longer can. Louisa’s almost criminal lack of zest to do more with her own life grated on my nerves, especially in the face of what Will had lost and Moyes captures my frustration perfectly in Will as he asks:

 “You cut yourself off from all sorts of experiences because you tell yourself you are ‘not that sort of person’” “But, I’m not.”“How do you know? You’ve done nothing, been nowhere. How do you have the faintest idea what kind of person you are?” 

Theirs is an unlikely story and the tenuous path their friendship takes is a beautiful thing to witness.

Moyes doesn’t make the mistake of letting the story turn tragic or preachy. She keeps her writing light, never burdening the reader with dramatic phrases or cheesy prose. She handles a controversial issue in the book with surprising grace, never belittling the enormous consequences that follow from choosing between life and death. Her characters are not divided into heroes and villains or saviors and damsels. They’re human and therefore as flawed as we are. And that is why Moyes triumphs in this ill-fated story. The tears you may shed are not futile but cathartic.

As a parting note, I would like you to pay special attention to Will’s mother. Love does not always have to be effusive and you will find that courage very often walks in silence.

No, Me Before You is not simply a love story and I would hate for you to dismiss it as one.

[1] Book reference. Which you would get if you read the damn book already.

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