Every once in awhile a book becomes really popular and I am enticed to read it. My usual stance is that something so popular cannot possibly be good, but I’ve been proven wrong on several occasions. (Devil in the White City? Excellent. Parks and Rec? Hilarious and smart. Harry Potter? Quite enjoyable.) So, if you’re wondering why I, a self-described cynic with a general distaste for all things romantic, would pick up this book, curiosity would be the reason. Maybe it really will be as good as everyone says it is. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.)
I’ll insert a real spoiler alert here, because it’s nearly impossible to talk about this book and why I found it wanting without revealing some of the plot.
Me Before You (Jojo Moyes, 2012) features Louisa Clark, “an ordinary girl, leading an ordinary life.” After getting laid off from her job as a waitress, “Lou” is sent by an employment agency to interview for a caregiver position. Her charge will be Will Traynor, a young, rich, handsome quadriplegic, whose dour countenance is at odds with Lou’s plain, simple style and her willingness to do what’s needed for her job.
What is this, Jane Eyre?
No, seriously, is Moyes ripping off Jane Eyre? Because that’s all I could think about through most of the beginning part of the story. Jane Eyre is only my second favorite novel of all time, so I would have found the similarity appealing if the plot hadn’t been so riddled with holes. Here’s what really bothered me. Mrs. Traynor hires Lou to A) be Will’s friend, and B) be on suicide watch. But she does not tell Lou this. I have no qualms with her hiring someone to serve as emotional support for her son, but to purposefully hide from someone that their job is to prevent a person from committing suicide seems wrong, unethical, and all manners of bad ideas. Add to this the fact that Lou is initially told that she won’t have to perform any medical duties, only to be expected to do so quite early on and this just seems like a recipe for disaster. It isn’t, of course, because Lou is plucky and resourceful and no one thinks anything is amiss when her ignorance, which is not her fault, puts Will’s life in danger. I could not get past this.
While I am the most cynical of cynical people who I know, I’m not so far gone as to find it unbelievable that Lou would fall in love with Will. It’s not. They have a very intimate relationship that could easily transform to love. What I do not believe, however, is that Lou would seriously think that her love would be enough to convince Will to alter his decision about ending his life. I believe that she would hope, that she would pray, that she would do everything in her power to convince him otherwise, but to be so shocked when he maintains his stance on how he chooses to carry out the remainder of his life is pure naivete. I could not get behind Lou’s anger at Will, her shock that her love was not enough to change his mind, because you knew that this was what he wanted to do. WILL’S DECISION IS NOT ABOUT YOU, LOU! IT’S ABOUT HIM!!!
Okay. I’m all riled up because we really could have had a smart, sad story about what it’s like when love does not conquer all, but instead Moyes supplies us with as many romance cliches as possible. For example, Lou’s boyfriend Patrick is in every way the opposite of Will. He ignores Lou, is insensitive, and is obsessed with triathlon training. Moyes paints him in such broad, cartoonish strokes so that her readers will instantly side against him and root for the Lou/Will pairing. But love is not like that. People are rarely so one-dimensional and Patrick did not have to be the anti-Will for us to understand that he and Lou were not right together. Give your readers more to work with than that.
Essentially, it’s not the story that’s the failure here, it’s the writing. It manages to be emotionally manipulative and a bit insulting, while also striving too hard for creativity. (Why Moyes chose to insert several pages from other characters’ viewpoints I will never understand because they serve only to take away from the heart of the story.) I will give Moyes credit for not having her characters go off into the sunset, happily ever after, but what could have been a very real, mature look at the difficulty of love and loss is undermined by banal writing and lack of imagination. I want more from my books than that.