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Saturday, July 12, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 72.0° F  Overcast
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BOOKS

A Book A Week: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


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Jojo Moyes was in Madison a few months ago for the opening of the new Central Library. At that event she read from her latest book, The Girl You Left Behind. I reviewed that book in advance of her visit. But most people who came to hear Moyes read that day were fans of her previous book, Me Before You, which was a big seller. Maybe you've already read it, but I hadn't until now. I bought a copy of it at the library event and got around to reading it in late December.

Some reviewers try to pigeonhole Moyes as a romance writer. It's true that both these books have elements of romance, but neither really fits into that category, as they both lack the traditional happy ending. Instead Moyes cleverly combines elements of romance novels with more contemporary motifs to make a kind of hybrid novel that delivers both an emotionally satisfying read and a story that incorporates some of the moral ambiguity you see in literary fiction.

In Me Before You, Moyes delves into what it's like to live with a serious disability -- quadriplegia -- and what it's like to care about someone with this disability. Will Traynor is a former master of the universe who has been laid low by a traffic accident. He's lost his high-powered job, his supermodel girlfriend, and his autonomy and is now confined to a motorized wheelchair under the care of a full-time nurse and his parents. Lou, short on education but long on compassion, has been hired as his personal assistant.

Lou has empathy to spare, and it doesn't take long for her to figure out what’s really going on. Will has made a perverse bargain with his mother: He'll refrain from suicide attempts for six months, at the end of which she will take him to Switzerland to an assisted suicide center. Lou will keep him company during those six months, in essence holding him to his bargain.

As a reader I instinctively shared Lou's revulsion at this deal and rooted for her efforts to convince Will to live. Their six months together is an exercise in opposites attract, class warfare and last-ditch panic on Lou’s part. Will is, by turns, lovable and monstrous to Lou, and Lou gives everything to Will. It's deeply romantic, albeit futile, and a good cry is part of the deal.


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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