Sunday, January 29, 2012

Me Before You

A diminutive, eccentric, brunette waitress at a shabby cafe in a tiny English town and a slick business executive who pursues extreme adventure on the arms of statuesque and shallow blondes aren't likely to cross paths. And if they ever did cross paths, they'd quickly un-cross them, because not only do Louisa Clark and Will Traynor have nothing in common, they live life by two totally different scripts. He's cultured and adventurous and snobby; she's flighty and unambitious and timid. And then Will, in the prime of his life, is injured in an accident, leaving him a quadriplegic and plotting the end of his life via assisted suicide. And Louisa loses her job at the cafe and is hired by Will's mom to be his companion, as a last-ditch effort to help her son see that life is indeed worth living. Me Before You is the story of two radically different people who come into each other's lives at just the right moment, to change each other's hearts forever.

Louisa has no experience as a caregiver and initially dislikes Will, who has been confined to his motorized wheelchair for two years and who works valiantly to be sure that everyone despises him. His sarcasm and bitterness repel Louisa, until one day she snaps at him, calls him an "arse" -- she dares to yell at a quadriplegic! -- and a fragile friendship begins between the two. As Louisa attempts to remind Will that life is vibrant and precious, Will has a mission all of his own: to awaken Louisa to the great wide world out there for the exploring, to make her see that she is too special and talented for the tiny life with which she has been content. 

At the beginning, the episodic segments of narration felt jilted; that choppiness faded away somewhere in the middle, though whether that was due to smoother flow or the fact that I had become totally absorbed in the story is hard to tell. Moyes presents what feels like a very realistic portrayal of the life of a quadriplegic. Will is confined to a wheelchair and at the mercy of others to care for his every need, but Moyes also respectfully outlines the fear and the pain that Will lives with, the daily indignities and small humiliations of his life. 

The reader quickly sees Will not as a patient, not as a man in a wheelchair, but as a fiercely funny and intelligent man who is struggling with the fact that his life has veered so far off of any course he had planned for or expected. The moments that Louisa begins to recognize the same thing are the moments that stand out in a 400+ page read. The first time that Louisa shaves Will's face, she realizes that no one has touched him in a non-medical way for years. And so she caresses his face lovingly and shaves him until she is as lost in the intimacy of the moment as he is. And the blush that blooms on Will's neck when Louisa's lips brush against it as she bites the tag of a collar off of the shirt he is wearing. And the moment when Will realizes -- when Louisa faces, sobbing, a demon from her past -- that she needs him just as much as he needs her.

The ending of Me Before You totally gobsmacked me. (Gobsmacked is Irish slang, introduced to my vocabulary by Tana French). Me Before You is a beautiful story that will make you think. I cried intermittently throughout the entire 481 pages (which is quite awkward when you are in a public place). I think that Moyes had to have tears streaming down her cheeks over her keyboard as she typed this story, because this is as raw and heartfelt a story as I've ever read.

Rating: 4/5 stars. This has snagged at my heart like nothing in a long time. The emotion of the writing is raw and beautiful.

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