From the BLURB:
Lou Clark knows lots of things.
She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.
What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.
Louisa Clark has lived in the shadow of her town’s tourist attraction, the Castle, all her life. She has never left her small town, and has worked at the Buttered Bun cafe for so many years, she knows the in’s and out’s of all her regular customer’s lives. So when the Buttered Bun is closed to make way for more Castle-associated tourist cafes, Louisa ‘Lou’ finds herself jobless in the middle of Britain’s recession. She has no schooling or qualifications other than waitressing. She needs a job, and fast, because her parents, grandfather, single-mother sister and young nephew rely on her paycheques. Her boyfriend, Patrick, can’t help her out either – he’s obsessed with the ‘Viking’ marathon and fat-ratio-body-count zero-carbs dieting.
So when the job centre recommends Lou try for a job as carer to a quadriplegic, she reluctantly goes for the interview. But Lou really isn’t qualified to ‘wipe bums’ – she’s not even very good at helping her mother take care of her grandfather who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Lou’s interview takes her to the affluent side of town, to the Traynor family mansion. The Traynor’s own the Castle, are descendants of the original royal occupants. They are moneyed and infamous in Lou’s small town, but she never knew about the troubles they’ve had at home . . . the eldest Traynor child, Will, was in an accident two years ago that has left him a quadriplegic. He has movement of his neck, but minimal control of his hands and fingers. Everything else is paralysed, and he is confined to a chair and needs 24/7 care, especially after a suicide attempt put the family on high-alert.
Lou doesn’t think she’s qualified to be Will’s carer, at all. But Mrs Traynor is adamant that she does not want a nurse-maid for her son. She just wants him to spend time with someone who oozes joie de vivre, who will entertain and be a companion to him. Will already has a qualified nurse, a New Zealander called Nathan. Now he needs someone to be his friend – and the Traynor’s think Lou fits the bill. She’s chatty and quirky, dressing in colourful tights and sparkly gumboots. She’s just the sort of positive influence Will needs in his life right now.
But Will Traynor is not the easiest person to get along with. He’s bitter and depressed – constantly reminiscing about his life ‘before’ and ‘after’ the accident. He used to ski, bungee jump, rock climb and just generally travel the globe looking for the next adrenalin-rush. Now he is chair-bound and suicidal.
Lou has six months to prove her worth to the Traynor’s and make a difference in Will’s life. And what originally starts as an easy paycheque and cozy new job turns into a mission of hope. . .
‘Me Before You’ is the new novel from British author, Jojo Moyes.
I was hearing a lot about Jojo Moyes last year, thanks to her novel ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover’. Ms Moyes has been releasing books since 2002, and already had seven books under her belt before ‘The Last Letter’ was released as her break-out hit in 2010. The novel won a slew of awards throughout 2011, including the UK’s ‘RNA's Romantic Novel of the Year Award’, and is now being adapted for the big screen. More than that though, I kept hearing whispers from my fellow book bloggers that ‘Last Letter’ was something very, very special. Still, I didn’t read it – God knows why. And then ‘Me Before You’ came my way – the all-important next book to be released after Moyes’s surprise hit. I had high expectations, based purely on previous book hype . . . and I've got to say, Moyes met and exceeded every single one of them.
Reading the blurb of ‘Me Before You’, I thought I had a pretty good idea of where this book was going to go, and I did have my reservations. Purely judging a book by its cover (and blurb), I thought I had this novel pretty well pegged from the first page. But I was very, very wrong. Moyes surprised me at every turn, never more so than in how deep she delved into the ‘issues’ of this novel, without ever preaching.
Will Traynor lived a full and adventurous life, until it was cut short one rainy London day. Now, in his early thirties, Will is a quadriplegic who needs round-the-clock care for his physical ailments, but for his mental road-blocks his mother has hired Lou Clark to be a companion to Will. Lou’s contract will last up to six months, after which time Will has a decision to make about his life . . . he’ll either find the will to live, or his family will let him go to Dignitas, an assisted dying organisation based in Switzerland.
In the beginning, Lou is none-the-wiser about Will’s ultimatum. She reluctantly goes to her new job at the Traynor’s plush mansion and grows to dislike Will and his curmudgeon behaviour. But slowly, very slowly, he starts to let a little of his old self seep in . . . Lou sees a charming and enigmatic young man, with strong opinions and a dried-up thirst for life. Lou also witnesses the many ways that Will’s life has vastly changed from two years ago. She meets Will’s ex girlfriend and his ex best friend. She stares at photos of Will standing tall upon a ski-slope and hears him tell tale of his trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. Lou finds it hard to reconcile that man with her wheelchair-bound charge. But Lou understands a thing or two about transformative events, and how hard it is to reconcile the ‘before’ and ‘after’. Because Lou has her own personal tragedy and remembered history which keeps her in this small town, never to venture beyond the shadow of the Castle.
‘Don’t you think it’s actually harder for you . . . to adapt, I mean? Because you’ve done all that stuff?’
‘Are you asking me if I wish I'd never done it?’
‘I’m just wondering if it would have been easier for you. If you’d led a smaller life. To live like this, I mean.’
‘I will never, ever regret the things I've done. Because most days, if you’re stuck in one of these, all you have are the places in your memory that you can go to.’ He smiled. It was tight, as if it cost him. ‘So if you’re asking me would I rather be reminiscing about the view of the castle from the minimart, or that lovely row of shops down off the roundabout, then, no. My life was just fine, thanks.’
Will, likewise, comes to care for Lou. Very slowly he starts to see her as more than just a dumb waitress from the bad part of town. He encourages her to read the books from his personal library and begs her to leave their small town, to see Paris or Sydney, just expand her four walls. But when Lou discovers the real reason behind her short six-month contract, and Will’s potential life-or-death decision, their time together becomes even more important. Lou becomes desperate to convince Will of the reasons to live, and she plans outings and activities to do just that;
I turned in my seat. Will’s face was in shadow and I couldn’t quite make it out.
‘Just hold on. Just for a minute.’
‘Are you all right?’ I found my gaze dropping towards his chair, afraid some part of him was pinched, or trapped, that I had got something wrong.
‘I’m fine. I just . . . ’
I could see his pale collar, his dark suit jacket a contrast against it.
‘I don’t want to go in just yet. I just want to sit and not have to think about . . . ’ He swallowed.
Even in the half-dark it seemed effortful.
‘I just . . . want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more.’
I released the door handle.
I closed my eyes and lay my head against the headrest, and we sat there together for a while longer, two people lost in remembered music, half hidden in the shadow of a castle on a moonlit hill.
Jojo Moyes is exploring a rather contentious issue – euthanasia. Going into this novel, I already knew where I stood on the topic of euthanasia – and that was that people should be allowed to die with dignity, on their own terms, and in their own time. But my stance was garnered from newspaper articles and raw, flat facts. In ‘Me Before You’ Moyes really does put a face and emotion behind this issue. And it should be noted that the book is full of gray areas – Will has plenty of people in his life (including Lou) who do not agree with this potential decision to die at Dignitas. But Moyes digs – she delves and explores the myriad of reasons for Will’s decision to live or die . . . and one of the reasons to stay is a powerful one – love.
But Moyes has certainly done her research, and in the book Lou trawls internet forums and speaks to other quadriplegics in her attempts at understanding Will. The potential diseases which could end his life, the various dangers of the body (regulating body temperature could be the difference between life and death). It’s all very fascinating, if heartbreaking.
But this novel isn’t just about Will and Lou. Moyes has peppered the book with a cast of lovable characters who enrich the story. There’s Patrick, Lou’s long-term boyfriend who has become a fitness fanatic, much to her chagrin. Lou’s sister, a single mother to Tomas who dropped out of university to be a mother to him. Lou’s parents, an affable duo who are struggling to keep their heads above water in Britain’s recession. And then there’s Will’s family – his polished mother whose cracks are beginning to show, and unfaithful father who selfishly feels the strain of Will’s condition. Moyes has certainly filled out Lou and Will’s lives with this cast of characters – and she delves into the gray areas with these people too, when she provides certain chapters told from their perspective. We learn of Camilla Traynor’s divided heart – her love for her son versus the condition which has turned him into someone she doesn’t really know. I loved these little asides, especially because Moyes offers them up at exactly the moment when you think you have the character figured out – she then lets us pick around in their brain and read their perspective, know their struggles and illicit unlikely sympathy.
I did cry buckets in this book. I won’t give anything away, but throughout parts of the book I was a blubbering mess. Moyes certainly plays the heart-strings with a deft pen, and she does keep you guessing until the very end. But as much as I cried throughout the book, by the last page I was taking deep, cathartic breaths and feeling better for having read ‘Me Before You’. Moyes pushed me to think about an issue I was already firmly (stubbornly?) decided on, more than that though, she gave an ‘issue’ real heart and perspective. I loved ‘Me Before You’ so much, that I rushed out and bought a copy of ‘The Last Letter from Your Lover’ (and after that, I intend to read every single one of her backlist books too). I'd say be prepared for ‘Me Before You’ – Moyes forces her readers to think and feel every awful, beautiful, heart-rending and chest-constricting emotion. Sublime and powerful.