Book Review – Me before You by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes crafted an exceptional tale of characters suffering from traumas both visible and invisible in Me before You. In the process she may have written the most unconventional love story every created. The tale also included some unexpected plot developments. A heart warming and heartrending read resulted.

I don’t typically read romantic dramedies so I didn’t know quite what to expect when I began this book. While I had some issues with it I thought both the story and main characters outstanding.

The author introduced readers to twenty six year old Louisa (aka Lou), “an ordinary girl, leading an ordinary life.” This suited her “fine.” (Location 346) Her boyfriend, Patrick, took her for granted. Her family favored her older sister. The story began as Lou lost her job working at a café. (It’s hard to imagine a more “ordinary life” than this in the modern era.) Through an employment service she managed to unexpectedly end up with a job caring for Will: a quadriplegic. This character lived the life of a playboy, extreme sport enthusiast and corporate raider. He experienced an ideal life until his motorcycle accident.

While people who haven’t read the book will no doubt wonder how someone with no medical training obtained a job caring for someone in Will’s condition, I won’t give away spoilers. I would point out that during the interview process Will’s mother, Mrs. Traynor, emphasized how Lou’s previous employer described her “warm, chatty and life-enhancing presence.” (Location 408) These characteristics served as an outstanding contrast to Will’s bitter, surly attitude in the novel.

I give Ms. Moyes great credit for developing the relationship between these oppositional characters as well as she did. Her prose made it seem natural and unforced. That’s a great accomplishment in such an unconventional love story.

In the course of reading Me before You, I hated putting it down. The author hooked me into wondering what would happen next. It’s a testament to the story’s strength that I recalled many of its details close to a month after reading it. It’s ironic that my main criticisms regard how poorly the author wrote it.

The book contained some clichés. The most egregious took place when Will’s former fiancé and his best friend decided to get married. I understand that the author needed to establish how miserable Will’s new life became for him, but this was just too formulaic for me. Some other clichés included when Lou described Mrs. Traynor’s “knuckles were white on the arm of the sofa.” (Location 1641) While the author presented every chapter but one from a character’s point-of-view, I thought the expression “spoiling for a fight” even too banal for a modern person to use in speech.

I also didn’t like the point-of-view changes. I’d estimate that 90% of the narration came from Lou’s perspective. I thought the ones from Mr. Traynor, Mrs. Traynor, Nathan (Will’s “professional” caregiver) and Treena (Lou’s sister) unnecessary. They broke the narrative flow, as well. I would also add that each of these characters only narrated one chapter each. I had trouble following the one from Treena’s point-of-view due to excessive use of pronouns. I couldn’t tell if she or Lou were the one speaking. It’s never good when a reader has to return and re-read the same passage several times.

I thought the author resorted to telling far too often. I couldn’t visualize how Lou “pulls a face.” (Location 100) Lou made a remark that, “It took almost forty minutes for Will’s temperature to return to an acceptable level.” (Location 1277) It made me curious as to what constituted an “acceptable level”. After a crucial conversation between Lou and Will’s mother, the former observed, “It was almost eleven minutes before I finally heard Mrs. Traynor’s car start up and drive away.” (Location 1943) I couldn’t believe Lou had counted them.

While I hate making this point, I found some of the writing just plain lousy. Following a rain storm, “The roads are slick with water.” (Location 127) What else would make them “slick” following a shower? The author began chapter 4 with the sentence “Two weeks passed.” (Location 735) A published author once termed expressions like that as “lazy writing” to me. Lou called Patrick’s description of the “Xtreme Viking Triathalon”: “The Viking was spoken about with reverence.” (Location 922) Not only did the author use passive voice, I doubt anyone would express herself like that in real life.

To be fair, the author did include some outstanding lyrical flourishes. I liked reading about the “pastel-colored wallpaper paste” (Location 742) and the alliteration of the “buds burst from brown branches.” (Location 1474) The chapter from Mrs. Trayor’s point-of-view contained an excellent use of a garden for symbolism.

It was only when we brought Will back home, once the annex was adopted and ready, that I could see a point in making it (the garden) beautiful again. I needed to give my son something to look at. I needed to tell him, silently, that things might change, grow, or fail, but life did go on. That we were all part of some great cycle, some pattern that it was only God’s purpose to understand. I couldn’t say that to him, of course—Will and I have never been able to say much to each other—but I wanted to show him. A silent promise, if you like, that there was a bigger picture, a brighter future. (Location 1724)

The strengths of Me before You far exceeded its shortcomings. For those, like me, who aren’t particularly interested in “love stories”: don’t let the “romance” element dissuade you from reading. I’d recommend to those interested in a moving tale with memorable characters. Just make sure you have some free time available before beginning. I found putting the book down before finishing the most challenging aspect of it.

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