It just so happens that my latest read coincides with the recent Brittany Maynard controversy. For those of you who have been living under a rock lately, Brittany Maynard was the recently married 29 year old who choose to “die with dignity” while battling painful and terminal brain cancer. The entire world decided to stick its nose in her business, and her decision to end her own life went viral for all the nay-sayers and supporters to argue over. Anyways, the novel Me Before You by Jojo Moyes touches on this topic as well and may even give a different perspective on the whole thing.
*This review contains spoilers*
I usually steer clear of books like this, I mean those with plots that are guaranteed to keep you grabbing for the tissues. Simply reading the back cover summary should have had me running in the opposite direction for a mystery novel or romantic comedy. Instead, I chose to take the path less traveled (by me). I usually don’t go for books (or movies for that matter) that will unearth some sort of melancholy in me. Maybe it’s just me being naive or perhaps I am avoiding reality. Either way, I know that’s not fair. Don’t I always preach “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”? The same should go for the summary. This is me branching out, broadening my horizons.
As should be expected, especially after my little introduction here, this book is a tearjerker. Incredibly, Moyes was able to take a story about a quadriplegic yearning for death and weave it in a way so that you didn’t want to slit your wrists after having read it. It is a sad story, but its not a depressing one. When you’ve read that last page, you aren’t left with a hollowness that haunts you with the memories of what you’ve just read. Instead, Moyes’s heartbreaking tale leaves you with something similar to hope. This is the saving grace the novel has to offer.
Louisa is a likable enough character. There isn’t anything all together fabulous about her, but I guess that’s the point. She has mediocre job, a mediocre boyfriend, and a mediocre life. There is nothing interesting about Louisa…until she meets Will. Just knowing Will makes her 50% more interesting by default. Will was an adventurous thrill seeker, a charming lady killer, and a cut throat business man among other things. His family is wealthy and he lives a privileged life. All of these traits normally make me roll my eyes and gag in disgusted annoyance, but tragically turn Will into a quadriplegic and you’ve got my undivided attention.
The relationship between Louisa and Will starts with disdain and resentment, but ends with love. Their characters are realistic, you can sympathize with both of them. Louisa is a simple girl just trying to make some money for her family, desperation landed her as Will’s caretaker. Will lived a glamorous sort of life only to have it ironically shattered. The cruel fate of Will’s accident was not lost on me. When asked by his girlfriend to not ride his motorcycle in the rain, will decides to walk to work and is hit by someone riding a motorcycle. This detail stuck out to me, even though the significance isn’t really discussed elsewhere in the novel. Possibly because its unfortunate accidents like this that actually occur to those who are unlucky in real life.
When Louisa learns of Will’s plan to end his life, it becomes her desperate mission to change his mind. This is about the time I started to get that nagging compulsion in me, the one that forces me to pick up the book with any little spare time I can muster, the one that keeps me turning the pages well into the night. Louisa’s plan does not operate smoothly, of course, but when it appears to be working, that’s when it gets interesting. Will she actually be able to change his mind? Moyes is able to keep you on edge, wondering if Louisa might have succeeded, right up until the very end.
The end. That’s when the tears come, when you finally accept that Will will absolutely move forward with his plan and when you realize what he has left for Louisa. Will’s dying wish to give Louisa a chance to broaden her horizons and actually live was very cliche and would probably never happen in reality, what with Will’s overbearing mother and angry sister, but it does give the reader hope. That is why I can forgive the absurdity. After all, we read to escape reality, right?
Controversy being what it is, the main focus of this book to some people is the legality and morality of being able to decide for yourself whether you want to live or die. While I don’t know what Moyes intended to be the focus, I choose the more important aspect of the novel…love. I didn’t dwell too much in the politics of assisted suicide, instead I focused on the unlikely bond between two very different people and who it changed them forever. While Will still decided to die, Louisa gave him friendship, laughter, and even love in a state he never thought possible. She gave him something to care about when he cared for nothing. Moyes succeeded in writing a uniquely heartbreaking love story.