Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Book Review: Me Before You

It’s not often that a fiction writer falls in love with a novel. In fact, the more you write, the pickier you get. I debated whether or not to write a review about Jojo Moyes’ latest novel, Me Before You, because frankly, it’s easier to analyze something that is poorly written or breaks every publishing commandment, than praise a book so much you start sounding like a broken record. At running the risk of boring you, dear reader, I decided to talk about this book because as much as we learn from other writers’ mistakes (as well as our own), we can learn from those who excel in their craft.

Me Before You centers around Louisa Clark, a waitress who reluctantly accepts the position of care giver to quadriplegic after she loses her safe and cozy job at a café in her small English hometown. Her new employer, Will Traynor, is a 35-year-old former businessman/playboy/adventurer who’s turned bitter and hopeless after an accident left him paralyzed. Lou has few ambitions in life other than supporting her quaint family and hanging out at a local pub with her long-time boyfriend, Patrick, whereas Will comes to this stand still point after living a “big life,” as he calls it. After the initial clash between the two characters (Will’s mom is the one to hire Lou against her son’s wishes) Will grows used to Lou’s eccentric fashion sense and easy-going, optimistic nature. When Lou finds out Will has lost his will to live, she is determined to change his mind by showing him “fun” ways for him to enjoy life (often with questionable results). The big questions the novel asks are whether or not Lou will change Will’s attitude toward his situation, and whether a life without movement is worth living.

With humor but also moments of intense poignancy, Moyes captures the reader from page one. Her strengths as a novelist are many: not only has she built a plot that screams tension from the very beginning, but she also manages to create relatable and believable characters. Her style is easy and quick, but not flat. The dialogue is sharp and realistic. The first person narration helps us relate to Lou and the prologue serves the purpose of intriguing the reader. Perhaps the only questionable decision was to include four more point-of-view characters into the narrative, which in my opinion offered little else to the development of the story. Sure, Moyes gave us insight into the other characters’ thoughts, but to me, it came at the expense of slowing down the novel’s pace.

Moyes was also successful at making the reader aware of the limitations of life as a quadriplegic (particularly in Europe) where the streets are narrow and there are not a lot of handicap-friendly facilities. As witnesses of Will’s struggles, we realize the harsh realities and daily pain quadriplegics face. This is one of those “book club” novels that will send you directly to a Google search about the intricacies of this condition and certain organizations mentioned in the novel. Moreover, the story will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

I highly recommend it.

The author, Jojo Moyes.

Have you read this novel? If so, what did you think of it?

12 comments:

  1. First of all ,I very much enjoyed this book. I could not put it down and am now in search of her other books. really enjoyed your review and wholeheartedly agree !!!!
    Ruth

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    1. I'm almost done with her previous book "Last Letter From Your Lover" and it's VERY different (it's not as gripping, but I finally got hooked). I'm curious to see if you like it as much as MBY.

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  2. I haven't read it yet but a few weeks ago I put a hold on it at the library: Suze really loved it and recommended it. There are dozens and dozens of holds on it already (it's popular!) but I think it will become available to me before the year is out. I deliberately only read the beginning and end of your review because I try *not* to read book reviews before a book. (Except the first and last paragraphs, because those are usually overviews.) It's not exactly a spoiler thing, but reviews can overly influence my own experience of a book.

    Anyway, that's a wordy way of saying — I will be returning to this review later! :D I'm glad you liked it and I look forward to reading it.

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    1. I saw that it was on hold too so I just downloaded it to my Nook (I didn't want to wait so long to read it!) I'm like you, I never read reviews beforehand, but I rush to read them as soon as I'm done. Looking forward to hearing your opinion, too (and a lunch in the near future!)

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  3. I haven't read it, but now, I'm intrigued. Whenever a book comes highly recommended, I get a bit skeptical (I guess you could say I'm kind of like you, Lorena, when it comes to reading novels). But I'd give it a try and see if I like it. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. Be sure to let me know what you think! (Maybe we can turn it into an excuse for another lunch :-))

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    1. Awesome! Thanks for stopping by, Susan!

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  5. This one sounds poignant yet heavy. I'm definitely interested in this story though. I didn't know exactly what it was about, just that people found it kind of powerful. I don't know how I'd feel experiencing the helplessness of Will in this book. Glad you enjoyed this one, I'll have to pick it up.

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    1. Let me know what you think if you read it! Thanks for stopping by.

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  6. I'm glad this post got more comments because I was reminded to go back and read the review — now that I've read the book. I really enjoyed it, though I was not immediately hooked. I mean, it was catchily-written, but I felt Louisa and Will were straight out of the British Book of Stock Characters. Then a plot complication was introduced that was pretty audacious, I think, on Moyes's part, and that really pulled me in. At that point, the characters had to move outside their usual parameters (both for themselves and for the broader archetypes they occupy), which made them come alive.

    I cried buckets at the end, but didn't walk away feeling depressed; from what I've seen on Goodreads, this is a pretty common reaction. That's quite a trick for an author to pull off: make your readers sob, but leave them feeling uplifted. Gosh.

    Great review, Lorena!

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  7. The British Book of Stock Characters is right!! At least the "mum" here was a little different. Usually, they're a little nutty and loud, ha ha. But at the same time, I think those small town English families (with their set of conflicts and quirky characters) can be very quaint. I think I told Suze that this book was a blend of "Dying Young" with "Mar Adentro" (have you seen it?) and any random British chick-lit, but I think it works! If you enjoyed this theme and you haven't seen Mar Adentro (with Javier Bardem) I highly recommended it (it's based on a true story).

    Totally agree with the ending's effect (sad but uplifting) this is perhaps my favorite feeling after reading/watching a book/film.

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