Me Before You (by JoJo Moyes)

JoJo Moyes is quite a versatile writer. So much so that I never quite know what to expect when picking up one of her novels. I’ve enjoyed some of them very much; others less so, although the writing is consistently good, and the characters usually well-developed and interesting.

I was given ‘Me Before You’ for my birthday eighteen months ago but only picked it up to read a couple of days ago. It’s not a short novel - almost 500 pages - but I finished it in just a couple of days. One I’d read a few chapters it became difficult to put down; it’s a storyline that will stay with me for some time.

The main narrator is Lou (Louisa), who is twenty-six, and has just lost her comfortable job working at a cafĂ©. She’s part of a close-knit family from what we used to call the working classes; her father struggles to make ends meet, and her mother is a full-time carer for Louisa’s grandfather as well as being a good cook, and extremely house-proud. Lou’s sister Katrina has a part-time job but also has a small son who needs to be cared for, so Lou’s income is vital for the family’s survival.

Then Lou is offered the job as carer/companion to a young man called Will in his early thirties who is confined to a wheelchair due to a serious accident which was described in the prologue to the book. Will is quadriplegic and someone else deals with his medical issues and intimate care; Lou is to keep an eye on him and try to take him out. She is unqualified and entirely inexperienced in working with the disabled, so I had to suspend reality slightly when she was offered a great salary and asked to start work a day after a rather unsatisfactory interview.

Most of the book is then about the relationship between the grumpy and rather depressed Will, and the unconventional Lou who dresses weirdly and is prone to speaking her mind. Will’s family is the other end of the social and financial spectrum; his parents are firmly in the upper classes; he used to be a wealthy businessman who enjoyed extreme sports and a series of attractive sloane type girlfriends. I’m not sure why quite such a contrast had to be drawn; nor why, since money is clearly no object, it takes Lou’s hesitant online research at the library to find a way for Will to use a computer.

However, dubious plot devices aside, it’s a well-written and highly thought-provoking story, that reminded me more than once of Jodi Picoult. It deals, in the latter half, with a very controversial subject in what seemed to me to be a realistic and sensitive way. I was disappointed in the ending; I would have preferred it to go differently, although there was an encouraging epilogue. But it certainly made me think through an issue that clearly isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.

Lou is a likeable young woman who adjusts well to her new and often difficult role. She gets over-emotional sometimes, and is reluctant to try anything beyond the confines of her home town; we fairly quickly learn about an unpleasant incident in her teens which made her fearful, yet I’m not sure I quite believed the ease with which she seemed to get over it once she had talked about it. She has a very annoying boyfriend called Patrick who seems to worship triathlons and running under extreme conditions; I didn’t entirely believe in him and am not sure why he was included, other than to provide a bit of conflict.

As for Will, he is in my view the most complex and well-drawn character. Other people are quite caricatured, although it doesn’t much matter and made it easy enough to remember who was whom. I was sorry that Will didn’t narrate anything; the only section of the book seen from his point of view is the prologue. There are two or three places where minor characters suddenly narrate a chapter; that was confusing and I didn’t really see why, since the majority is told by Lou.

But still, despite these niggles, it’s a very good read. I finished the last couple of hundred pages almost in one sitting, eager to find out what would happen, and whether - as I suspected - Lou and Will would become good friends (and possibly more) after their initial antipathy.

Available in Kindle form as well as paperback - and I understand that a sequel has just been published. I look forward to reading it!

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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