The online book club I belong to, The Lit Lodge, on consensus, had chosen “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes for October 20-November 20 read. I was quite happy since I was looking for a chance to read this.
The story is about a 26-year-old Louisa Clark, affectionately called Lou, who has been hired by Mrs. Traynor, the town magistrate, to look after her 35-year-old quadriplegic son William or Will. Lou has no ambition in life, she just wants to live a simple life, earning only to sustain her family.
At first, Will and Lou didn’t get along (which is quite common in romantic stories). Will is moody, angry and resentful. He hardly speaks to her, always intends to keep her at an arm’s length. Poor Lou has no other choice but to continue with the job even though she too hates Will; the pay is good enough to run her family. Soon she learns by eavesdropping Mrs. Traynor’s conversation with her daughter Georgina that Will intends to go to Dignitas (a non-profit organisation in Switzerland that helps people with severe mental and/or physical injuries in assisted suicides) and that he has already tried to kill himself. Mrs. Traynor has asked for a six-month time period to prepare herself. That’s when Lou realises that Will hates not her but the post she’s been given, a suicide-watch.
Lou decides to bring a change in Will’s life, giving him a reason to live. She plans outings, some of which were successful while some were disasterous. She does bring a change, a change in Will and also in herself. But Will does not change his decision….
Will had a justified reason to be moody, bitter, resentful. He used to be a free bird; he loved taking risks, he loved adventures, he loved to explore life. But one accident, takes away everything… His career, his wanderlust, even the love of his life Alicia, who goes on to marry one of his closest friends Rupert. The way Moyes draws the picture through her words, I can’t help but feel for Will. As I read, I kept picturing myself in Will’s shoes and I could feel exactly what trauma he was going through.
At the same time, I do empathise with Lou. She tried to do her job, to be Will’s carer. She did nothing to deserve Will’s wrath. She was unknown to the tempest that Will’s psyche was trapped in.
Jojo Moyes did an appreciable job in portraying various characters, there are separate chapters to project the POV of characters like Camilia Traynor (Will’s mother), Stephen Traynor (Will’s father), Nathan (Will’s medical attendant) and Katrina Clark or Treena (Lou’s younger sister); majority of the story was from Lou’s POV. I wish I could be exposed to Will’s POV too. I wanted to know more about him.
I loved the chemistry between Will and Lou. Love needn’t always be physical or sexual. That’s what Moyes has portrayed. Lou expressed her love by trying hard to make Will happy and make him realise there’s still something life beyond his paraplegia. Will expressed his love for her by endearingly forcing her to explore life, to be fearless, teaching her that there’s no harm in being selfish at times, teaching her to believe in herself. They had a platonic, beautiful but romantic relationship and Jojo Moyes has done a fantastic job with her words.
I cried for the first time in my life reading a book. A new experience. The ending was heart breaking. I wish Will had changed his decision but again it was hard for him…
My rating: 4.5 ⭐/5
Now I would like to answer the discussion questions thrown at me by my book club
1. How did you initially respond to the theme of the book? (Euthanasia/Mercy Killing)
Ans: Mercy killing is heartbreaking. If a person wants to kill himself/herself, that means, he/she has undergone such turmoil that there’s nothing this world or his/her life can offer that can calm him/her down or wipe away the turmoil that is why he/she wants to end his/her life to get the peace he/she deserves.
2. What would you have done if you were in Louise Clark’s place?
Ans: Maybe even I would have given my best efforts to give Will some normalcy, some hope towards life.
3. Do you think Will made the right decision? What would you have done if (God Forbid) you were in his place?
Ans: From Will’s POV, I think his decision was a justified one. Being unable to move one’s limbs, or eat or even regulate one’s own body temperature is a torture, there’s no characteristic of living left. Had I been in his place, I would have chosen Dignitas as well.
4. Mrs. Traynor exhibited a very cold and aloof nature throughout the book. Was it only because of Will’s condition and the impending decision or did her relationship with her husband also a play a vital role?
Ans: We see Mrs. Traynor mostly as a mother in the book. I feel she’s not aloof, she’s trying hard to be strong and be prepared of what’s coming next (her son’s irrevocable decision). Maybe her tense relationship with her husband had given way to the coldness but it solidified further as an attempt on her part to survive an almost broken marriage and her child’s death wish.
5. Mr. Traynor comes across as an unfit father figure. Do you hold any sympathy towards him or is he too selfish to be sympathised with?
Ans: There’s not much about Mr. Traynor in the story to make any comment. I don’t think he’s selfish or an unfit father figure. He kept his extramarital affair aside for his son, he spends time with his son to make him feel better. He has supported in everything that has given at least a speck of hope of saving his son. He’s not as passionate as his wife is but he’s done his part in some way at least.
6. Katrina (Treena) Clark was an imposing and a daunting character. Do you think she was in any way responsible for Louisa’s low self-esteem?
Ans: Treena has been the more pampered one among the siblings. She’s considered to be the most intelligent, all-knowing in the family. Lou has been the butt of all jokes in the house. For Treena, the world revolves around her. Maybe that’s why Lou had become suppressed and lost her self-esteem.
7. Louisa’s parents constantly put her at butt of all jokes whereas she was the only responsible one. Why do you think Treena always had the advantage over Lou?
Ans: It’s very common in families having more than one child, the youngest one happens to be the most pampered one. The youngest one never really grows up in the eyes of the family. That’s why Treena had the advantage over Lou.
8. In what light do you view the Clarks as parents?
Ans: The Clarks are like the conventional middle class parents, I find them somewhat similar to my parents too. They are doting, caring.
9. Do you think Treena going away to college and letting her parents and Lou work for her course fees makes her a bad person? Was she only doing what she saw fit for Thomas’s future? Or were the reasons purely for her own benefit?
Ans: Treena, though she’s a mother, she hasn’t really grown up. Being the youngest in the family, she has been treated like a kid, she has been the centre of everyone’s attraction. Consequently she has become self-centered, self-obsessed. I think she doesn’t even realise that. That doesn’t make her a bad person.
10. The character of Louisa shows great personal development as the book progresses. Is only Will to be credited for it or other factors are also engaged?
Ans: Will helped Louisa a lot in her personality development. Not only that, but Louisa’s working as a carer to a quadriplegic has brought about a development in her.
11. The sibling rivalry is pretty evident in the Clark and Traynor side. Do you think a. It’s normal b. One is dominant and other submissive c. The tension of the situations make it worse?
Ans: I feel the sibling rivalry is more or less common. In the Traynor side, the situations adversely affects the relationship more.
12. Patrick is a jock who only wanted Lou waiting in the wings for him while he went out and fulfilled his dreams.Do you agree?
Ans: Yes, definitely. Patrick is a self-obsessed jerk.
13. Georgina Traynor, Will’s younger sister didn’t want to be bothered stuck and caring for a grumpy man because she had better, fun things to do. Agree or Disagree?
Ans: I do agree. At one point, she herself says it to her mother.
14. Which character in the book, apart from Lou and Will, stood out for you the most? (Negative or positive, their character and it’s depth lingered on and made you think even after you had finished the book.)
Ans: Mrs. Traynor. She is this woman who is entangled in the tension of her marriage and her son’s condition. She is trying hard to be rock solid for her son which is taking her a toll on her but she does not share it with anyone.
15. Picking up such a sensitive topic, do you think Moyes was able to change your previous view about Mercy Killing?
Ans: I always hold this belief that if life becomes too painful to handle, its better to opt out of it. No one deserves incessant suffering. This belief was with me while reading this book.
16. Whichever particular scene (except the ending) stood out for you?
Ans: Alicia-Rupert’s wedding when Lou and Will danced together for the first time with Lou on Will’s lap. That scene was beautiful.
17. This was a potential contender in the banned books category. Do you think books with such topics should really be banned or should be highlighted and promoted to make people aware of the sufferer’s point of view?
Ans: People should be aware of what’s happening to people around us. At times, when life gives us lemons, we feel dejected and defeated. Books like this one reminds us that there people who suffer zillion times more than us.
18. Would you read such a book again?
Ans: Maybe yes.
19. Would you read such a book again were in it a non fiction genre minus the love story?
Ans: Maybe no. I may not be able to handle it.
20. If it all comes down to perspective, then everyone is right and everyone is wrong. In the context of the theme of the book, do you agree?
Ans: Yes. In this book, I felt both Lou and Will were right and wrong at the same time from their respective perspectives.
21. How did you find Jojo Moyes’s writing style?
Ans: Its vivid, engrossing, touching.
22. The sequel, After You, is out. Would you want to read that or was the end of Me Before You the best possible closure to the story?
Ans: When I came to know there was a sequel, I thought in the end of this book, Lou will be successful in changing Will’s decision, but no, that didn’t happen. Now I’m intrigued what’s more left in this story that prompted Moyes to write the sequel. That makes me want to read After You.
23. Has this book/genre widened you reading scope?
Ans: I have read books like this before, those that deal with unfinished love stories, loss of love because of some medical condition. From that aspect, no, it didn’t my reading scope. But it’s the first I’ve read about Euthanasia. So, from that point of view, yes, it has.