Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Living with Literature is happy (and fortunate) to announce a new patron.  Along with the Time and the Modern Library Top Lists, we will also review upcoming Penguin releases.  Me Before You, a complicated love story, is the first in the series.

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Louisa Clark has recently been laid off from her job at the Buttered Bun cafe.  With the economy still bad, father on the verge of losing his job, her sister Katrina moving back in, and Mother worried, the 26-year old needs to be the breadwinner.  To make matters worse, her longtime boyfriend Patrick, the former fat now Franksteinly fit marathon runner, is focused on the Xtreme Viking challenge, and has little time for Lou.  But all that is about to change.

While working the midnight shift at a chicken factory or exotic dancing would fund the bills – choices Lou had to sadly consider in her small town – they’re not first choice.  During a job assistant session, Lou hears about a personal caretaker position.  Fearful images of sponge bathing a flabby older gentleman are quickly dashed away and, much to Lou’s luck, a rather high salary is offered.  Though she takes the job, Lou knows in the back of her mind there must be a catch.

There is a castle in Lou’s small English town where the Traynor’s live.  Will Traynor, the son of the upperclass family, was involved in a traffic accident leaving him without use of his arms or legs.  He is now a quadriplegic.  The former alpha male, successful businessman, and world traveler is understandably bitter about his new way of life, and Lou gets the brunt end of this.

Of course, after a few weeks, the two start talking, and even become friends.  Will’s medical nurse, Nathan, even admits he’s never seen his patient so happy.  But there is still something strange about Lou’s situation.  Hired without any prior care experience nor schooling, the young woman wonders what the Traynor’s saw in her qualifications.  It isn’t until one evening, while trying not to evesdrop on Mrs. Traynor’s phone call, Lou realizes that she isn’t there simply to keep Will company, but to keep their son from voluntarily ending his life.

Though it is subtle, Me Before You takes into account British social hierarchy. “Britain is still incredibly hide-bound by class, and we only really notice it when we go somewhere that it doesn’t exist in the same way, like the US or Australia.”   By utilizing class mindset, and with a touch of British charm, Moyes structures Me Before You.  The Traynor’s are not only physically different from Lou and her family, but mentally as well:

“To my parents, I had in four short weeks become just a few degrees more interesting.  I was now the conduit to a different world. My mother, in particular, asked me daily questions about Granta House and its domestic habits in the manner of a zoologist forensically examining some strange new creature and its habitat. ‘Does Mrs. Traynor use linen napkins at every meal?’ she would ask, or ‘Do you think they vacuum every day, like we do?’ or ‘What do they do with their potatoes’?

She sent me off in the mornings with strict instructions to find out what brand of loo roll they used, or whether the sheets were a polycotton mix.  I was a source of great disapointment to her that most of the time I couldn’t actually remember.  My mother was secretly convinced that posh people lived like pigs – ever since I had told her, at age six, of a well spoken school friend whose mother wouldn’t let us play in their front room ‘because we’d disturb the dust.’ “

Despite revolving around Lou and Will, Me Before You can also boast a well developed (and necessary) supporting cast.  Moyes uses her characters for contrasting perspectives throughout the novel.  Thanks to cohesive and easily approachable characters, the new voices feel less like strangers, and more like friends & family.  These interims also save and serve the narrative when Lou’s bitter attitude reads too heavy-handed:

“Katrina:

Louisa didn’t come out of her room for a whole thirty-six hours after she got back from her holiday.  She arrived back from the airport late Sunday evening, pale as a ghost under her suntan – and we couldn’t work that out, for a start, as she had defnitely said she’d see us first thing Monday morning. ‘I just need sleep’, she had said, then shut herself in her room and gone straight to bed. We had thought it a little odd, but what did we know?  Lou has been peculiar since birth, after all. “

Me Before You is certainly written with an audience in mind, yet isn’t limited to a specific genre.  Moyes showcases her talent by crafting a narrative with lovable and difficult characters. “I’m not very romantic in real life”, the author admits, but her novel proves the opposite, and reminds readers how complicated, yet remarkable love can be:

“The art gallery trip lasted a shade under twenty minutes.  And that included driving around the block three times in search of a suitable parking space.  We got there, and almost before I had closed the door behind him he said all the work was terrible.  I asked him why and he said if I couldn’t see it he couldn’t explain it.  The cinema had to be abandoned after the staff told us, apologetically  that their lift was out of order.  Others, such as the failed attempt to go swimming, required more time and organization ringing up the swimming pool beforehand, booking Nathan for overtime-and then, when we got to the leisure center, after the flask of hot chocolate was drunk in silence in the car park, Will resolutely refused to go in.” 

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Moyes displays a strong spirit in her writing.  What began as a typified romance in Me Before You, blossomed into an intriguing (and creative) moral question:  should we let Will go through with his wish?  With the success of her last novel, The Last Letter from Your Lover and The Girl You Left Behind, the anticipation for this latest novel is no surprise.  Me Before You is an inspiring and heart-wrenching tale from a writer well worth your time.

Here is a book club kit for interested parties.

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