Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Spoilers follow.

Partway through: 

  • It is hard to put down.
  • Mysteries: what happened when he was left alone by previous caregiver.
  • Ticking clock: so many days to change his mind. 
  • What the protagonist wants: Initially, just to make money to help her family. She stays in the job despite really not wanting to. Then around 30% it changes to wanting to keep Will alive.
  • It is a savior story: basically that she is enough to make his life worth living. I do have a suspicion, given the sequel titles, and that I heard it is about grief, that she doesn't succeed in this.

Upon Finishing

Yeah, love wasn't enough. It makes me wonder how this is classified as romance (it is according to the title page). I guess because the two love interests end up together, even though it isn't happy ever after.

Emotions: I *sobbed* through the death scene. Something very much working there. 

I was not mad about the outcome. My guess is that the author gave us enough hints so that I figured it out. First, on a message board, a quad tells her she shouldn't be trying to change Will's mind. Second, there are the rugby parents. And then finally Lou's own mother is so against it that Lou ends up arguing, backing up Will's opinion and his right to make the decision.

In the end, I wouldn't have cried about the ending if I didn't care about Lou. 

Analyzing her character to find out why I care:

  • I think we like her because she's helping out her family
  • She is sympathetic in that she tries to do the right things: not only helping out her family, but trying to quit the job when she feels unable to do it
  • It isn't very likable that she has no ambition, but I imagine that goes over better in England. It was normal for working class kids there when I lived there 35 years (!) ago. 
  • However, this is balanced by her having the high-achieving sister. I think that excuses it: of course she didn't think she could amount to anything 
  • I imagine it is quite relatable that her boyfriend got all fit and left her behind (although not for me). He is definitely enough of a jerk that we want her to ditch him but not so much that we're mad at her for not doing so. It works because we see what is going to happen, and it probably helps that he is off-screen for the most part. 
  • As it goes along, we see she does resent her sister for having the baby and not having to work, basically Lou is making all these sacrifices and then Treena goes off to college. Doesn't feel at all unreasonable for Lou to wonder how Treena bought new shoes, but even more we don't hold the thought against Lou because she thinks it is petty of her to think this!

There are some interweaving of plot and character, ranked here from effective to pointless to negative:

  • Sister going to college means Lou takes the big room, at a time where she's gaining confidence. Then when sister comes back to visit, there is a room conflict, which pushes her toward Will, diverts to Patrick, and not only brings all of that to a head but pushes her to live with Will (otherwise she just would have gone home). All of this exerts those kinds of pressurs that make previously barely-tolerable situations intolerable
  • Dad losing job. Initially adds stakes to Lou needing a job (on top of the inciting incident of her leaving her job(?)). When he gets a job with Will's father, this absolves Will from feeling guilty for his potential suicide taking away the family's income (because Lou won't be employed by them anymore)
  • Will's parents' relationship. Dad having the affair adds tension but doesn't have a big effect on the plot in the end 
    • communication awkward with Mrs. Traynor (have to keep secrets). Amplify existing
    • maybe Lou seeing him is why he gives the job to her father?
    • Huge complications with regards to Will's suicide, in that Will living seems to be the thing that is holding the parents together. But how terrible for his dad to only stay with the family while he's alive. First of all, that gives him a selfish argument for Will to die (which doesn't seem to bear any weight on the ending). Second, why would he then abandon his wife once she's lost Will? Doesn't really make sense. 
  • Rape history. I'm not convinced this was necessary. Absolving Lou of her guilt is a gift that Will gave her, but he gives her a lot in many aspects of her life. It allows Will to save her in the maze, which might be their first physically intimate experience.  It gives Lou a reason to have eclectic fashion, but there are other justifications for that. So overall I don't think it's worth using this cliche.
    • Update: I read a review that reminded me that this event in Lou's life was why she shut herself off from taking an adventurous trip to Australia. That kind of makes sense (although that it would make her want to stay in the town where it happened instead of getting away is arguable) but again, I don't think there needs to be justification for someone living and working in the small English town where they grew up.
The last of that is a criticism, but overall this was probably the most compelling book I read all year. I was thinking about the characters frequently, and I read it in a week or less I think. I also found myself making text-to-self connections (a phrase I learned in my kids' elementary school lessons but works, right?), appreciating my and my husband's (so far) good health. Can't argue against that!

Also, I will counter arguments from people who say it is pro-suicide and believe it pushes that "there is no way to live a good life as a quadriplegic." There is so much in there about how that is not at all true for everyone, even for the majority, but there are a small number of people who want to be able to make that decision for themselves. And taking away that agency is terrible considering how little they can control in their own lives.

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