“You make me into someone I couldn’t even imagine. You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you – even the you seem to think is diminished – than anyone else in the world.”
The back cover describes Me Before You as a “heartbreakingly romantic novel”, words that, I have to admit, reel me in more often than I’d like to admit. I’m a sucker for plots starring doomed romance, star-crossed lovers and unrequited love that smells of bitter almonds.
But before I recommend that you download this lovely novel, let me just make it clear that it is not your quintessential romance novel. Not one that keeps you up at night with butterflies in your stomach and has you fancying yourself in the hero and heroine’s shoes, anyway.
Twenty-seven year old Louisa Clark, protagonist and narrator for most of the novel, is a girl who aspires to very little in life. One might even say she aspires to nothing at all given that she’s perfectly content working as a waitress in a café, living with her parents and dating a man she has nothing in common with other than the fact that it’s familiar and comfortable. But when she loses her job at the café and is forced to take up a job as a carer and companion for a man in a wheelchair, she can’t predict how much her view of the world is about to change.
Thirty-five year old Will Traynor had everything going for him – brilliant job, beautiful girlfriend, enviable list of adventures around the world – until a motorbike on a rainy day puts paid to it all. From living the high life to having his bottom wiped for him every day, you understand why he isn’t in the best of spirits confined to the existence of a quadriplegic. He is extremely angry at having to spend what now feels like eternity, living an assisted life which involves bed sores, pneumonia and daily catheter changes.
Having lived like this for two years, Will isn’t keen on sticking around much longer. Enter Louisa, who has six months to change his mind. However, don’t be naïve, expecting miracles or picture perfect endings because this isn’t a story about finding the silver lining or the triumph of true love. Or maybe it is. I don’t know. Debate it over with your book club. To me, it’s about the quality of human life just as much as its value. Yes, it is about love as well, but it is much more evolved than the ‘girl meets boy’ and ‘love against all odds’ shebang.
Me Before You is a wonderful book that may take you a little more than a weekend to read. It can get a bit slow and at times you’re left wondering where the story might be heading. But honestly, just be patient and see it through because this is one of those rare books that explore human potential as well as limitation.
Don’t read it for the beginning, romance or just to satiate your curiosity on how it ends. Read it for the journey that Louisa and Will embark upon. To see how they discover so much more about themselves and their prospects and capabilities. But more importantly, read it because it tells a beautiful story without getting too preachy, tear jerky or adding conflict just for the sake of it.