[Spoilery Discussion] Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

18:29 Cilla P 8 Comments


(I started writing this post as a review, then realised a discussion is a more suitable format for what I want to say. So this is a non-star, spoiler-filled discussion!)

The hype of Me Before You sailed by me almost entirely. I knew that it's a tearjerker, I vaguely knew the ending, and the movie came out (from the trailer, Emilia Clarke looked adorable), and there was some controversy around it. I didn't pay any attention to it all until last summer, when I spotted a copy in the library. I finished it within six hours, and then I was torn.


See, I enjoyed the book. Moyes' writing felt like a stuffy armchair you can just sink into. I loved the dynamic of Lou's family, particularly her interactions with her sister. I rooted for the romance and for both of the main characters to find their paths in life, together and separately. As a romance novel, it served its purpose.

Having heard about the problems with Will as a representation of a disabled individual, however, I couldn't set aside my critical glasses. Here are some articles that do that include voices from the community: Buzzfeed, The Mighty, HuffPost. As an able-bodied reviewer, my opinion on the matter should not shadow theirs, so please keep that in mind as we continue.

I have complicated feelings about voluntary assisted suicide, and I do appreciate that the conversation is out there. (If you'd like to listen to the advocating position for voluntary assisted suicide, this podcast is fantastic if really raw at times.) I appreciated that there were different responses from the characters about Will's decision. It's not a black and white topic, and I thought the book made a decent attempt at it.

However, I feel that the overarching message to quadriplegics should never be that assisted suicide is their only option, or that they have no chance for a full life. At the end of the day, it felt that that is what Me Before You seems to be saying. Granted, the book's attempt at negating this message was a tad better than the movie, as book-Lou actually had interactions with other quadriplegics who were making the most out of life, but I feel there could have been more to it. It still didn't change the fact that Will's advice for Lou to live fully jars with his action. Yes, a lot of the things he valued and had done to 'live fully' were now impossible, and his loss was not trivial. Still, it felt like the message is that Will's injury means he'll never find other things he can enjoy, that there's no chance he'll find meaning in life again.

The position I take on the debate around assisted suicide means I won't condemn Will's choice, but I don't think he should've qualified for it. The bigger issue, however, is that this is one of the few representations of people with disability in novels, and it is potentially harmful for readers who are in Will's positions. Jojo Moyes is a good writer, and I may still read another book of hers if I feel like reading a romance. I just don't feel like I can recommend this one.
Title: Me Before You (Me Before You #1) ❙ Author: Jojo Moyes ❙ Publisher: Penguin Books ❙ Source: Borrowed ❙ Release Date: 31 December 2012

"Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. 

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living."

8 comments:

  1. Great post, and I totally agree that the book dealt with things better than the film did (in the film they seemed to suggest that Will was partly doing it to set Louisa free, which was never implied in the book, and would be a horrible message!) I had mixed feelings on 'Me Before You' too - I thought it was a great read, really quick and I loved the character of Lou, But I couldn't stand Will. The assisted suicide was his choice, and fair play to him, but I thought he was very dismissive of other people who manage to be happy with less than he was prepared to be. Not everyone has the opportunity to 'live fully' in the way he meant, and not just because of disabilities, because of all sorts of circumstances. Plus they kept saying he was depressed, but it was like no one thought to try and tackle his mental health before letting him kill himself?

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    1. Yes!! I couldn't remember if he'd ever been to therapy when I was writing this review, but yeah, you're right. He really -was- dismissive of other quadriplegic's experiences - I think he made a retort about 'quads r us'?

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  2. Fabulous post! It's an interesting topic and I wish more people would talk about it because the book does a good job of presenting both sides. (Maybe there was more discussion when the book first came out but I read it after the movie was released).

    There are definitely other alternatives to Will's situation and they weren't all explored in the story. (Catherine mentions mental health counseling which would have been a great idea). Which is a shame because it does make it seem like life isn't worth living if you can't use your body the same way as everyone else. Most disabled people I know would disagree with that.

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    1. I wasn't aware of the book when it first came out either. I liked that the book presented Will's mother's point of view too, which I think added to the conversation. The movie's missing this depth, I think.

      Exactly. While the book did a decent job at portraying the debate around assisted suicide, its portrayal of Will's take on it is the most problematic.

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  3. My feelings were pretty similar to yours---the movie actually really bothered me because it took Will's pain and spiraling health almost completely out of the equation and his decision was pretty much all about the fact that he couldn't have the life he wanted. That didn't sit well with me at all.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. Yeah, the movie definitely simplified matter too much. While Emilia Clarke was adorable in it, I think I'd recommend the book over the movie for the depth of the discussion around Will's situation.

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  4. While reading the book, I felt like I have no right to have an opinion about Will as an able-bodied person. What I did instead was mostly focus on Lou's side of things. I was heartbroken for her because of Will's choice. I still enjoyed it, a 4/5 star rating for me.

    What's great about the book's hype and popularity is that people in the same situation as Will started speaking up and a discussion about assisted suicide has sparked.

    Thank you for the links on said discussion, bookmarking them to read later.

    Also I am suddenly inspired by your post to also do a discussion about Me Before You but more in the aspects of the film side. I will link this as my inspiration to my post, I hope you don't mind.

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    1. Lou certainly found herself in a difficult situation, and I think she did the best she could.

      I don't mind at all! Go for it. :)

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Thanks for reading! It makes my day to hear your thoughts and I will respond asap. :)