Assumptions can be dangerous things; you are probably making one about me reviewing this book right now be it good, bad or indifferent. I admit I make them all the time despite the fact that I know I shouldn’t. One such bookish assumption that I know I make often is about books with too much pink on them, I just assume that they will be my cup of tea. Jojo Moyes latest novel ‘Me Before You’ is one such book I had been intrigued by but avoided due to the cover, yet thanks to a roundabout recommendation of it by Damian Barr (and the podcast of his literary salon featuring Jojo Moyes reading from the novel and discussing it) I gave it a whirl! I am so glad I did as it was a wonderful, funny, touching and emotional read and one much darker and deeper than the cover (which I don’t really think has any relation to the book to be honest) would suggest.
As ‘Me Before You’ opens we meet Will Traynor, a young, ruthless and successful high flying business man. He makes mega bucks during the week in his office and spends the weekend’s mountain climbing, skiing or biking. That is until, in the opening chapter so I am not giving anything away, he is involved in a tragic accident. Skip forward a few years and we meet Louisa Clarke, your average kind of girl who it still living at home in her mid twenties and who has no aspirations to leave happily working in the local cafe, that is until its closed. She becomes jobless and the prospects are slim, until she takes on a job as the daytime carer/companion for a quadriplegic, Will Traynor.
It could so easily fall into the clichéd story at which you may all be assuming will take a certain twist. Louisa is hapless, clumsy and unsure and Will is edgy, offensive and incredibly frustrated. Neither really wants to be there but that is the way it is and so they both meet in the middle with slightly awkward humour. It is this humour, which had me laughing out loud, that makes the book rather special, you laugh at what you shouldn’t but not in a callous way, because as a reader you really care and you really feel the frustration and anger Will must feel being in his situation and the frustration and emotions of those dealing with Will dealing with himself.
The second genius stroke, which was also quite a risk, is the way the story develops and it might not be the one you would hazard a guess at because Moyes throws in a very big, and controversial, subject as we go on and that is the right to die. How it all works out I will not divulge, I would just urge you to read on and discover as it, I think, is handled beautifully. I should state here that I never felt that Moyes had used the subject to ‘shift copies’ and I think that is something that should be mentioned as I can think of some authors, who will remain nameless, who have happily cashed in on ‘moral dilemmas’ – this is not such a book in case the thought had fleetingly crossed your minds and you are a bit cynical like me.
There are few books which you read where the characters walk off the page and you genuinely feel like you have been spending time with them because they are as real as your mates, the last book I read where I felt like that was ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls. There are also relatively few books which deal with a tough subject or subjects in a truly honest fashion, which encompasses the light and dark, the funny and the heartbreaking, and here Moyes excels again (this interestingly reminded me of ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman). The two combined just make for a really enjoyable, emotional and rewarding read. There are also some slight twists and the like thrown in for good measure but it is the relative normality of the characters and the way they interact, good and bad, which also sets this book apart.
Having listened to Jojo Moyes talking about ‘Me Before You’ she said that it could be ‘a career breaker’ and ‘not an easy sell’ as the subject matter which it covers is a delicate one and, in the wrong writers hands, could offend or patronise people. Thank goodness for Jojo Moyes taking the subject under her wing as with a deft hand she makes this a very human story, one which will have you laughing on one page and quite possibly crying the next (have tissues to hand, advice from someone who didn’t). Ignore the cover, read the book. I did in one sitting.
Who else has read ‘Me Before You’ and what did you think? Has anyone read any of Moyes other books? I know my mother has some of them on her shelves but we have never discussed them, should I be secretly pilfering them next time I visit?