“Me Before You” transcends predictable chick lit. In feisty, quirky Louisa (Lou) Clark, the main narrator of “Me Before You,” author Jojo Moyes has created a sympathetic three-dimensional character who is ultimately forced to consider whether anyone has the right to control the way they live -- and die.
Louisa, as the story opens, lives small. She is a waitress at a café who lives with her parents although she expects to eventually marry her fitness-obsessed boyfriend Patrick. When the café closes, she is forced to scramble to find a job that will provide enough income to help out her family. She accepts the best offer going: to be a caretaker/companion to suicidal, quadriplegic Will Traynor. Until his crippling accident, Will has always lived large: negotiating big business deals, thriving on adventure-driven vacations and attracting beautiful women.
Lou refuses to be cowed by Will’s sarcasm and self-pity:
I realized that the anxiety that had held me in its grip all day was slowly ebbing away with every one of Will’s comments. I was no longer in sole charge of a poorly quadriplegic. It was just me, sitting next to a particularly sarcastic bloke, having a chat.
Even as she becomes comfortable with the difficult Will, she begins to lose interest in Patrick, who had turned into “Marathon Man.”
Patrick’s stomach no longer gave when I nestled into him; it was a hard, unforgiving thing, like a sideboard, and he was prone to pulling up his shirt and hitting it with things, to prove quite how hard it was. . . . It was as if the fitter he got, the more obsessed by his own shape he became and the less interested he was in mine.
Lou’s world is rocked when she discovers that she has been hired not so much to keep Will company, but to be there to prevent him from trying to kill himself. Will’s mother – who narrates a chapter – extracts a promise from him to wait for six months before going to Dignitas, a Swiss clinic that would help him end his life. Lou, who deeply cares for – and finally loves – Will is determined to provide him with the adventures and misadventures that will convince him that his life is worth living. As she puts it, “I had a hundred and seventeen days in which to convince Will Traynor that he had a reason to live.”
At the same time, Will convinces Lou to take risks and refuse to settle.
Lou and Will are as unlikely a pair of lovers you can imagine. Yet every choice she makes is out of love for Will. And every hope that Will has for Louisa is based on his love for and understanding of her.
She desperately hopes that her love will be enough to sustain his will to live:
“I think we can do all sorts of things. I know this isn’t a conventional love story. I know there are all sorts of reasons I shouldn’t even be saying what I am. But I love you. I do. . . . And I think you might even love me a little bit. “
“Me Before You” has it all. It’s an unconventional love story that leavens tears with humor even as it will break your heart. It opens the door for considered discussions about one’s right to die with dignity.
“Me Before You” is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.