I just recently finished reading Me Before You, a popular book by JoJo Moyes which was recommended to me by several friends. Since finishing the book, people have asked me, “Was it good?”
It depends on what makes a book good.
Is a book good when you don’t want to stop reading, when you are filled with curiosity about what will happen next and are anxious to see how it will end? Then this was a great book. I really didn’t want to stop reading it the few times I had to set it down and I frequently found myself throughout the workday wondering what would happen next.
Or is a book good when you love the whole story and how it ended? Then no, it was not a good book. I have mixed feelings about how the book ended so overall have mixed feelings about the book. If asked if I liked it, it’s hard for me to say simply yes or no.
But maybe it is that indecision and continued thought after finishing the book that makes it a good book. Maybe the fact that I didn’t simply put it down and move on without any further thought makes it a success.
Me Before You is billed as “heart-breaking”, “romantic”, and generally a weep-fest. I did cry a bit, but found myself more frustrated than moved.
Our main characters are Louisa Clark, who in need of a job, accepts one as a caregiver to Will Traynor, a wealthy quadriplegic man who used to live a very large life and now struggles with living a smaller, more painful one.
Moyes puts a lot into the book that makes you think. Reading Me Before You made me think of a favorite quote about one of the joys of reading:
A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy. ~Edward P. Morgan
Moyes gives us both fragile thoughts and explosive ideas. I’ll tackle the fragile thought first, as it was what I liked most about the book and why I would recommend it. The explosive idea is morally and politically charged as well as filled with “spoilers” – as River Song might say in Doctor Who ( sorry I have a house full of Whovians at the moment and I can hear her voice saying spoilers, spoilers).
The fragile thought for me, that touched me, looked at how we define ourselves, our lives, our limits. Will Traynor challenges Lou to live a bigger life, not limiting herself to the tiny world and life she had defined for herself. While I may not have connected with Will’s character, as I’ll discuss more later, one thing I did appreciate about Will was the way he challenged her tendency to say “That’s not me.” Louisa’s response to things she hadn’t done before, like going to the orchestra or scuba diving was often, “Well that’s not me.” When Will basically dares her to try things, and then provides her not only the opportunity but a strong motivation to try them, she begins to see herself differently. The Louisa Clark we meet in the beginning is a very different one than we see at the end, and I liked her journey. It made me ask myself, “What am I missing out on by telling myself, ‘That’s not me’.”? I love that a book can open up new thoughts like that.
The explosive idea (spoiler alert) is with Will’s decision to end his life through assisted suicide. While I’ve read some very heated responses to the morality or politics of the “right to die” or “right to choose” or however you want to define the idea of whether a person should be able to receive medical assistance to end their own life, I don’t want to get into a debate about the big concept. I think people will have very strong opinions about whether it is right or wrong, should be legal or should not be legal, and then even further into other related issues. I don’t really want to go there. Though many certainly will, and would argue it’s an important discussion to have. Perhaps. I just don’t want to have it.
I’d like to speak very specifically about Will’s choice. Not whether he should be allowed to have the choice.
Why I struggled with this book and felt like flinging it across the room in the end was because Will was so determined to end his life and would not be swayed from that decision. His argument was that it was the last choice that he was able to make for himself. I’m sorry, but that’s BS. He could choose to make the most of the life he had. He still had his mind. He wouldn’t even consider the possibility of trying to make a life work. He gets a tattoo at one point in the book that I absolutely HATED. The tattoo was “Best Before” and the date of his accident. As if his life expired when he had the accident that disabled him. All he can see is the life he used to live and the greatness of that life. He cannot see beyond the limitation and pain of his new life. Okay, I will concede that yes, that must suck. You go from being the king of the world to having to have someone else be responsible for you basic physical needs. He could no longer travel, climb mountains, ride motorcyles and have sex. Yes, that would be awful. But to not just joke but to believe that he was best before his accident and no longer wants to live because he can’t have those things is to take for granted what he still has or could have.
Will and his family have the means to provide him the best care possible. Will has full use of his mind and could use much available to him to still do something with his life. Will has people who care about him, including a woman who loves him and wants to help enrich his life. He has life. I was so frustrated with this book because of his refusal to even consider that his life could still be good despite the incredible difficulties and limitations.
Maybe it is the part of me that is an optimist that hated his pessimism (or even realism if you want to look at it that way).
Maybe it is the part of me that loves to see people rise up in difficult circumstances that hated his decision to end his life because it was difficult. I want to read about a person who fights against difficult odds, overcomes insurmountable obstacles, and is ‘bloody, but unbowed.”
I do not, and did not, want to read about a character who believes the best of his life is over and the rest of his life has no value.
And then he focuses his determination toward ending his life, despite how he knows it will hurt those around him. I couldn’t like Will for all of these reasons.
I find it interesting that Moyes never gives us a chapter from Will’s perspective after his accident. We get bits from the POV of most of the characters, but not Will. I wonder why Moyes chooses to limit his POV chapter to only before the accident. I have to say it contributed to my inability to connect with his character.
But do I have to like Will to like the book? No. So was it good? Yes, for making me want to read and making me think after. But if someone asks me if I like it – my answer is no. Because of Will. Because of his decision.
Feel free to share with me (not political or moral outrage please) how you felt about the book. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Read on for a related note on this book from my Fangirling world.
Part of the reason I read the book was because there are rumors that Tom Hiddleston has been considered or suggested for the part. Here, for my fangirl friends, are my thoughts on Tom in this role.
Tom is extremely talented and this could be an excellent vehicle for him to show off his talent. He communicates much through his eyes and face alone, so playing a role where his face and eyes would be pretty much what he’d be limited to would show off his skill.
It’s also not hard to imagine Tom as the larger than life pre-accident Will that is an upper crust British gentleman or to imagine our devastation at seeing him broken. I am certain Tom in this role would add a whole other layer to the story that I don’t know that I’d honestly want to explore. There is little possibility that we would not care about Will. I’m certain Tom would fill in a lot of the holes in that character that I feel were present in the book. I’m afraid I would love Will like Lou did and I would indeed be a weeping mess at the end when they say goodbye.
If Tom were Will I am sure I would care in a whole different way than I did in the book.
And that is just one reason I don’t want him to play the role.
I think that whoever takes on this role will be thrust into the kind of discussions I’ve wanted to avoid when discussing this book. People may ask if because of his decision to play the role, does he then support the choice Will made? Certainly Tom is intelligent enough and articulate enough to make whatever argument he would choose to make, but I don’t know that I want to see the idiocy that may become prevalent on social media if he stars in this movie.
One of the reasons I am a huge Hiddleston fan is because of his positive and joyful spirit. Many quotes are full of optimism and I love that. A favorite quote is:
“Never, ever let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Prove the cynics wrong. Pity them for they have no imagination. The Sky’s the Limit. Your Sky. Your Limit.”
I know actors play characters that aren’t like themselves. I know Tom has played characters that aren’t like him. I know that. I just don’t like the idea of this character in his collection of characters. I don’t want him inhabiting a character who would value life so little. I just don’t want it.
But if he does, I am sure I will watch. I am sure I will weep. But I kinda hope I don’t have to.