I cracked under Hollywood pressure and gave in: I read Jojo Moyes‘ 2012 romantic novel Me Before You. It is actually part of a series, with a sequel titled After You having been released in September 2015. If you have been living under a rock and do not know what Hollywood has to do with me reading this dramatic romance novel… It has been turned into a movie to be released early June 2016. The Me Before You movie features Emilia Clarke (from Game of Thrones), Sam Claflin (from The Hunger Games) and Matthew Lewis (from Harry Potter). Take a look at the trailer.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ve been told it sticks very close to the book, only omitting a few details that weren’t necessary to the story. I’ve also been told it brings on the waterworks, so be aware (but so did the book, so that was to be expected). Most critics weren’t very positive about the movie, but audiences loved it and it already won a few awards. It is on my to-watch list, I’m just waiting for the DVD to come out (because I don’t want to be ugly-crying in public).
Before I get back to the book, let’s start with a warning.
I will spoil the ending, if you are planning on reading the book or watching the movie, stop reading RIGHT NOW! Because there will be spoilers!
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the plot of the book. The main character and also the main narrator of the book is Louisa Clark, a quirky, working class girl (known as Lou to her friends). She lives at home with her parents, sister and nephew, and contributes a part of her wages to the household because they don’t have a lot of money. When she gets fired, she panics because they need the money. The job centre gives her a few low-paying jobs but she doesn’t last long in any of them. Until they inform her of a position taking care of a disabled man, and it pays a lot of money, which she and her family desperately need.
In comes Will Traynor, a rich young man that used to be very active until he got into an accident and became paralyzed. He is left a quadriplegic, stuck to a wheelchair, unable to do anything himself. He can only move his head and has little movement in his hands. Now, I find it difficult to explain his personality, because Moyes paints Will as someone who is left angry, bitter and hopeless. Will sees no way out of his situation and wants to commit euthanasia. He wants to die rather than live another day with his crippling disability. This has caused Moyes a lot of backlash from the disabled community because she makes it out to be that living with a disability like that is not possible, not humane, that they can’t live a full life anymore.
The way I interpreted Will’s behaviour isn’t that extreme. I think Will is suffering because the world was at his feet. He was a very sporty, young, rich guy who lived life to the fullest. He was an adrenaline junkie and if he wanted to do something he did it. Now that he is tied to his wheelchair, he feels robbed of his freedom (and I’m not commenting on whether that’s true or not). He feels that he cannot live like this, unable to do anything for himself, in constant pain and surrounded by a family that pities him half the time and the other half of the time doesn’t know what to do with him. So he decides to end his life on his own terms, rather than risk his disability becoming worse and him ending up in a coma.
His family doesn’t agree, and after a nearly-successful suicide attempt, they come to an understanding. Will is to give his family 6 months to try to change his mind. After that, they will not stop him. He sets up an appointment and gets ready to wait out his time. But his parents aren’t giving up that easily, they want to hire a caretaker who might be able to convince him not to go through with it. Enter Louisa. In the beginning, Lou and Will do not get along at all. Will is surly, dismissive and generally introverted. He doesn’t acknowledge Lou’s existence and Louise is thinking about quitting because when they do talk, they are fighting and he makes her feel very insecure and bad about herself. But because her family need the money, she decides to tough it out.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a good romance novel, if the hero and heroine didn’t start to get along. So that is exactly what happens. Lou learns to read Will’s moods, and knows when to back off and when she can push and insist. Will is charmed by her, even though he tries to keep her out. But Lou pushes his way in. After a few weeks, when they have gotten an easy camaraderie going, Louise discovers Will’s plan. She overhears his mother and sister talking and realises that she has basically been on suicide watch (which explains why Will was so cold to her in the beginning) and she is horrified that Will is going to kill himself. However, she is swayed to stay by Will’s parents and even asked to help them change Will’s mind. Together with her sister, she figures out a plan to show Will that his life can still be filled with beauty, fun and love and that it is worth living.
Over the next couple of months, two things happen. Lou and Will get closer because they keep going out and doing things together and Lou also learns the reality of Will living with his disability. She sees Will at his best and at his worst. When 5 months are over, Will seems still set to go through with his plans. So in a final bid to convince him, Lou organises a vacation for the two of them, where Will can skydive and do all kinds of adrenaline-type things that he used to love before. But right before they need to leave, Will falls deathly sick with pneumonia and the trip is cancelled. A week later, he is mostly recovered, so Lou decides to go on holiday just the same. Only not the adventure-filled holiday she had planned, but a relaxing stay at the beach (since Will is still recovering from his latest stay in the hospital). They grow even closer and the night before they need to go back home, Will and Lou share a sweet kiss.
By this time I had already cried and laughed a lot. I liked the writing style because it really seemed to fit the story. However, I was also a little frustrated with the story. As you probably know if you’ve read my blog before, I am a sucker for happy endings. And since we learned about Will’s plans, we have basically been waiting to see if Lou will convince him not to kill himself. So by this point, I am thinking to myself: if they have gone through all this, just to have Will die at the end… I am going to be pissed!
Anyway, back to the story. Lou and Will just kissed. Lou looks him in the eyes and tells him she loves him and sees herself spending the rest of her life with him. It was not what she had planned for herself, but she fell in love.
“All I can say is that you make me… you make me into someone I couldn’t even imagine. You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you – even the you that you seem to think is diminished – than with anyone else in the world.”
(sidenote: throughout like 80% of the book, she actually has a boyfriend. But he seems more interested in getting fit than he is in her, and she doubts their relationship throughout the story)
After her proclamation of love, Will seems conflicted. He tells her he has something to confess, but she replies that she already knows about his plans. She says that she has been trying to change his mind, and that she loves him. However. And this is the major thing folks. He says that it isn’t enough.
“Shhh. Just listen. You, of all people. Listen to what I’m saying. This…tonight…is the most wonderful thing you could have done for me. What you have told me, what you have done in bringing me here…knowing that, somehow, from that complete arse, I was at the start of this, you managed to salvage something to love is astonishing to me. But…I need it to end here. No more chair. No more pneumonia. No more burning limbs. No more pain and tiredness and waking up every morning already wishing it was over. When we get back, I am still going to go to Switzerland. And if you do love me, Clark, as you say you do, the thing that would make me happier than anything is if you would come with me. So I’m asking you – if you feel the things you say you feel – then do it. Be with me. Give me the end I’m hoping for.”
So I am bawling my eyes out at this point. Like nooooooo, he is still going to kill himself? I have read this entire book, watched their friendship, and later romance, bloom and just like that… BAM finished? Nope!
Back to the story real quick: Lou flips out. She is angry, she is hurt, she is heart-broken, and she is sad. She doesn’t want to be there for Will killing himself, and she shuts down. When they return home, she tells his parents that she has failed, that he is still going forth with his plans and that she won’t be sticking around for it. She is miserable for days, inconsolable and trying not to think of Will. The day of Will’s appointment, she gets a call from his mother begging her to come, for Will’s sake. She relents and flies to Switzerland (because that’s one of the few places where euthanasia is legal) and braces herself to meet Will in the hospital. She now understands parts of why Will wants to do this and is willing to give him the end he wants.
“Hey Clark’, he said.’Tell me something good’. I stared out of the window at the bright-blue Swiss sky and I told him a story of two people. Two people who shouldn’t have met, and who didn’t like each other much when they did, but who found they were the only two people in the world who could possibly have understood each other. And I told him of the adventures they had, the places they had gone, and the things I had seen that I had never expected to. I conjured for him electric skies and iridescent seas and evenings full of laughter and silly jokes. I drew a world for him, a world far from a Swiss industrial estate, a world in which he was still somehow the person he had wanted to be. I drew the world he had created for me, full of wonder and possibility.”
When she gets back home and after the funeral, she is left bereft. The man who came to mean so much to her is gone, she accepted it and now she doesn’t know what to do with her life. Because he made her think. He convinced her to do something more with her life, to “live to the fullest” and to set goals for herself. She then learns that he has left her money to do just that. So she travels to Paris, the place he loved most, and reads the letter he wrote her, to be read at Cafe Marquis, Rue de Francs Bourgeois. His last message to her?
“Push yourself. Don’t Settle. Just live well. Just LIVE.”
Dammit, right?! As I mentioned before, I was furious at this book at first. Taking me on this rollercoaster that was Lou and Will’s relationship and then not giving me the happy ending I so longed for. But now that I’ve let a week go by, I feel less upset by the ending. In truth, I don’t think how it could have ended any other way. If he had changed his mind, it would have made their entire journey a lot less meaningful. I am still not happy with the ending, but I’ve come to accept it. I really don’t know how to feel about this book. So I’ll stick to the basics: well-written, loved the relationship between Lou and Will and I am certainly not likely to forget this book anytime soon.
How about you guys? Read the book? Seen the movie? I’d be delighted to read what you thought about it in the comment section.