Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
There is absolutely no way for me to discuss my feelings on this book without getting a little spoilery. I don’t think it’s anything you wouldn’t gather from the jacket copy, but do consider yourself warned.
To begin with, Me Before You
is not a romance novel. It’s a romance in the same way that an action movie where the hero gets the girl is a romance. Character kiss and feelings are proclaimed, but that doesn’t make it a romance novel.
No, it’s an examination of the moral issues involved with euthanasia. Louisa is a 26 and a bit adrift in the world. She still lives at home with her economically struggling parents, she’s been in the same relationship for six years even though they've clearly outgrown each other, and she’s just lost the only job she’s ever had as a waitress at a cafe in her small hometown. She gets a job as a companion/caretaker for Will Traynor, a 35-year-old man left a quadriplegic by a motorcycle accident two years earlier. At first, Will is predictably bitter and closed off. He doesn't really want to deal with Louisa and pretty much resists any attempt at conversation or cheerfulness. After some time, her chipper, witty personality wins Will over and the walls begin to crack just a bit.
A few weeks into her six-month contract, Louisa discovers that Will has made an agreement with his parents. He has decided that he wants to end his life with the aid of a Swiss company named Dignitas, but he will give his family six months before he does it.
Naturally, Louisa is horrified. She’s uncomfortable being involved with something so morally gray and can’t believe that Will’s parents would agree to such a thing. She wants to quit, but Will’s mother begs her to stay on. It’s been a long time since she’s seen Will as happy as he is with Louisa, and she thinks this new caretaker might be able to change his mind. With the help of her sister, Louisa plans a series of outings designed to convince Will that there is hope for his new life.
There were times when I loved this book and couldn't wait to keep going and times when I got frustrated with it. I appreciated the originality and, honestly, the bravery of approaching such a story. Suicide is a tricky thing, to say the least, and Moyes handled both sides of the conversation with grace and dignity. However, there were times when the plot felt a little too Lifetimey for me. There were extraneous threads running throughout the story – Will’s father having an affair, Louisa’s family troubles, Louisa and her boyfriend not connecting anymore – that felt unnecessary. Moyes frequently toed the line into too much melodrama, and these extra threads didn't help her.
Louisa was a very well developed character, but she was the only one. Random chapters were narrated from the point of view of Will’s parents, Louisa’s sister, and Will’s nurse. The minimal amount of time devoted to their point of view made it feel kind of forced to me. It seemed as though Moyes could think of no other way to develop these characters, but what was given didn't contribute as much as I would have liked. The characters that didn't narrate a chapter (Louisa’s boyfriend, parents) also remained very flat. For the most part, though, I liked the prose. There was a little too much revealed through dialogue, but it was a quick, easy read and I wanted to know what was going to happen next.
At one point, during the chapter narrated by Will’s mother, I started to feel very uncomfortable with some things: A busy magistrate, Mrs. Traynor isn’t able to devote a great deal of time to Will’s care which is why she hires Louisa. She knows her son has tried to commit suicide before and his resentment over his situation has obviously built a wall between the two. She doesn’t want her son to die and when Louisa realizes the magnitude of the situation, Mrs. Traynor begs her to stay on because Louisa is clearly able to get through to Will in a way that no one else has. As I was reading, I realized that Mrs. Traynor has essentially hired Louisa to keep her son from killing himself and that idea made me very uncomfortable. Not only is this kind of an unfair thing to do to Louisa, but it made Mrs. Traynor look like a horrible mother for dispatching such a duty to someone else. I think some stronger development of the secondary characters might have made this less troublesome for me, if we had been given some more insight into Will’s previous relationship with his mother or a greater sense of why she felt this was something she could put onto someone else’s shoulders.
Still, I'd recommend this to fans of writers like Jodi Picoult. It's very engaging and it presented a tricky issue in a very balanced way.