Me Before You / JoJo Moyes
London: Penguin, c2012.
This was an unexpected read for me: I was sent it from a publicist without requesting it, and thought it really wasn't my kind of reading. But it was a nice day and I felt like a lazy read so I picked it up. I should have taken the cover blurb seriously... "partner-ignoringly compulsive" is the truest description I can think of for this book! I started it in the afternoon, and didn't put it down until the last page that evening. And those last pages...well, let's just say that stock prices for Kleenex probably rose thanks to this book.
The story explores the odd couple made when Lou Clark loses her job at a café and finds another through the local job finding centre -- she is to be the carer for quadriplegic Will Traynor, a young man whose life was changed in a motorcycle accident. Lou is small town through and through; the most excitement she has in her life shows up in her crazy outfits. Will, on the other hand, was a high powered businessman in London and an extreme sports fanatic, until his accident. They begin to develop a friendship, each becoming the best listener for the other. And there are moment when Lou (and the reader) forgets Will's disability as their relationship deepens.
But it's not only light and lovely. Moyes draws a strongly realistic picture of what quadriplegia means. Sudden pneumonia, a catheter, dependency, depression, frustration -- she makes Will into a deeply appealing character who is also suffering deeply. Lou begins to understand, even while trying to make him see that life is worth living.
Woven inextricably into the tale is the spectre of assisted suicide. As Lou goes online to discover many chatrooms and websites for friends and carers of quadriplegics, she finds that people react differently, and that many choose to end their lives by their own decision. Perhaps because it is set in the UK, the availability of a specifically created clinic in Switzerland makes assisted suicide seem easily accessible and possible in a way that it wouldn't be for North Americans. Moyes is able to take this love story and turn it into a discussion of all these issues at the same time that she is developing interesting, appealing characters and relationships.
I really enjoyed this book. It was funny in parts, light, sweet, yet not overly sentimental or mawkish. It dealt with troubling issues and events and yet didn't feel hopeless. I found it a lot more thought-provoking than I'd expected and was reminded not to assume I know what a book is going to be like simply by blurbs or covers. But I must warn any interested readers -- you will want to be sure not to finish this on public transit or before going out somewhere. I'm not sure anyone could come to the end without a bout of sobbing.
This was a surprise find for me, one which caught me and resulted in an entire evening's compulsive reading. I may just have to search out a few more of her titles. And some more Kleenex.