Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – Book Review

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me before you, jojo moyes, book review
Me Before You | Amazon Photo

(NOTE: Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie. – ed.)

Me Before You, by British author Jojo Moyes, is a love story, yes, but it is so much more. It is a book that will spark debate and conversation, and people may love it or hate it based on their moral opinions.

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Despite all that, it is a story about two very different people stuck in very different cages. For Louisa, a perky and individualistic person, her cage is emotional. For Will, a successful, adventurous businessman from a rich family, it is mostly physical. Will was left a quadriplegic after being hit by a motorcycle while trying to catch a cab.

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Will does not cope with his change in circumstance well, and after an attempted suicide, agrees to give his parents six months before he goes to a place in Sweden that helps with assisted suicide. Will’s mother, being desperate to change Will’s mind, hires Louisa for the task, and – unbeknownst to her – also make sure he doesn’t try to kill himself.

Louisa, after an assault in her early 20’s, is failing to thrive and take chances, leaving her tied to a small life with little to challenge her. Will and Louisa want desperately for the other person to live their life, despite the cage that they are in. For Will, he wants Louisa to live her life more boldly, without fear and to experience everything she denies herself. Louisa wants Will to see that despite his drastic physical limitations, he can still enjoy life, especially with her.

Although the book talks mostly about Louisa’s efforts to compel Will learn to love his life and want to live it, the author turns the tables and instead, Louisa is the one who learns to live more boldly. Will redirects Louisa’s life by changing her view of what her potential is and what great experiences lay waiting for her.

Will’s resolve and complete absolution to end his life is interesting to me. At first I was upset with him because he seemed hypocritical and selfish. Telling Louisa she is full of potential, that she has a whole wide world to seek out and that she is limiting herself, but he in turn wishes to end his life because his life has turned quite severely in a different direction.

As I have thought about it more, I have come to realize that Will knows himself well. He is a very successful, adventurous man in his 30’s who knows his own mind. Louisa, on the other hand, has all her facilities, but is too stunted by fear to leave behind what is comfortable. When I look at it that way, I don’t see him as being hypocritical. I think in his mind, choosing to “die with dignity” before his body deteriorates further, is living boldly.

I do wish he was able to find a silver lining, but I understand his choice and because of that, I was not angry at how the book ended. I have often pondered to myself if it would be selfish to ask someone you love in his condition to stay, if they are in constant pain that will only increase in time, because one’s heart would break losing them.

me before you, jojo moyes, book reviews
Me Before You author Jojo Moyes | Jojo Moyes Photo

I enjoyed the very clear “British” way of writing. The narration and the character’s chatter was witty, dry, sarcastic and at times blunt, but the relationship between Louisa and her parents had a clear and secure attachment. The difference in the relationships and how they are expressed between Louisa’s loud and blunt family and the cold and distant family of Will further magnifies the class distinction and the general feeling of anxiety all around the characters.

The author captured the inner turmoil and pain of Louisa and the desperation of Will’s mother fantastically. I could just feel the chest tightening, breath catching and heart hurting pain, anger and hope that they were feeling throughout the book. Despite Will’s attitude, you get that his mother and father love their son more than anything and despite their inabilities to express themselves to each other verbally, they seem to understand that language.

I also thought the author’s choice in setting, the small tourist village, riddled with class distinctions in the shadows of Strotfold Castle, provided a perfect background and atmosphere for the story. Louisa’s town already sets her up with limitations, being a very small tourist village. Then adding to those limitations is her financially struggling family – her unwed sister and her young son, and her grandfather who requires care after his stroke – all depending on her for help.

Because of this, Louisa has little to push her past her comfort zones. She’s also reminded often that her sister is the brains and beauty, while Louisa is sweet, but unconventional and lazy. Then, you find out later in the book that Louisa’s acceptance of her “small life” is due to being raped when she was just starting to see past her small village, at the same castle that seems to divide the classes in her town and define the limits she accepts.

It is no wonder that Will, being from a rich family (who owns the castle), being very successful and having every opportunity available to him, would be frustrated and confused over Louisa’s apparent apathy towards new experiences. The castle represents the danger and discomfort that going beyond your comfort zones and taking chances could have.

The author captures a lot of emotions around the difficult life choices in this book. She explores sexual assault, feelings of inadequacy of not being able to provide for one’s family, loss of mobility, career and relationships lost due to that change, infidelity and assisted suicide and so much more. As previously stated, the topic of assisted suicide will create debate and conversations, but one of the other situations I was compelled by was the conflicting feelings of Will’s father. He ruminates on how Will is responding to Louisa and is happier, but at the same time, if Will’s dies, he will be free to leave his unhappy marriage and start over. I don’t get a sense of guilt from the father, but a sense of heaviness about the whole situation that it has to be one or the other. I feel like those feelings and thoughts of Will’s father are very valid and most likely pretty realistic, and the fact that the author included this glimpse into this aspect of the families inner struggles adjacent to Will’s struggles is wonderfully done.

I would recommend Me Before You to anyone, but for those who only like fairy tale endings, you may be unhappy at the ending. I know a couple people who stated they would not read or see the movie because they felt that it normalized assisted suicide. I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, but it is a book that will incite strong feelings in many ways … which is biggest reason I loved the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I am sometimes left disappointed after reading a book that is talked about so much in the media, but I was not this time. I cannot wait to read how Louisa’s life has changed in the sequel, After You.

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Note: The movie Me Before You was, in my opinion, a success and worth a watch. I felt that the director and actors stayed true to the characters, and I really enjoyed their interpretation of the book. There are, of course, small changes, but overall, very well done!

Other Books by Jojo Moyes: One Plus One, The Girl You Left Behind, The Last Letter from Your Lover, Silver Bay, The Ship of Brides, Sheltering Rain, Honeymoon in Paris

Check out her Amazon page.

Next Up: A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

3 COMMENTS

  1. Note much abuse has been documented in the Oregon assisted suicide system.
    See the federal case of Thomas Middleton who was killed with the Oregon law for his assets according to the feds.
    There are more details at http://dredf dot org/public-policy/assisted-suicide/some-oregon-assisted-suicide-abuses-and-complications/

    Opposition to euthanasia comes from 95% of the entire spectrum of humanity from atheist to eastern philosophies, once they learn how these laws can easily be administered wrongly against the individual 95% say “I’m not for that”. It is as simple as that.
    Respectfully submitted,
    Bradley Williams
    President
    MTaas dot org
    PS:
    The promoters have done the public a disservice. Their ordinary bait and switch campaign is demonstrated by their selling “must self-administer” then they do not provide in their legislation for an ordinary witness of the “self-administration”. This omission eviscerates the flaunted safeguards putting the entire population at risk of exploitation.

    • Thank you for your comments and the information Mr. Williams. As stated in the review, the story incites strong feelings and intense conversations about the topic and I think you certainly provided some good talking points. It is a sad and terrible day when anyone, in any circumstance wants to end their life. It is disgusting that would prey upon those feelings and influence anybody in that way.

      All of the characters in the book had strong moral feelings about Will’s decision. I really don’t think any of them feel it is moral to do (obviously Will is the exception) about it and as I am reading the sequel, they all receive social backlash for even being in the same room with him when it happens. The characters love Will and despite their pain and their disapproval, did not have a say in Will’s decision. The only thing they could do was show they loved him and say goodbye.

      The books main focus was not to shed light on assisted suicide or take sides on it. That was the situation that the characters were in. The conflict. The story really was about the people, how we change each other and what living really means. The second book is interesting in many ways, but it does shed light on how his decision has affected everyone.

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