Gosh, it feels like ages since I last read a novel!
The last time was a couple of young adult fiction books I read in January by David Levithan, called “Every Day” and “Someday“. Imaginative, brilliant, and hard-to-put-down. Definitely worth the time if you’ve not read them yet. Proof that even now at 51, I’m still not too old to read teen flicks, though there was a time I wasn’t old enough to devour chick lits (but did anyway)!
Before Levithan, I recall plowing through Margaret Atwood‘s “The Testaments” rather painfully. Sorry Dame Atwood! Especially considering that I once posted fondly about your webinar at last year’s annual Singapore Writers Festival. But Ma’am, seriously, I just didn’t get it!
I’ve even tinkled with a few pages of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” by John Le Carre who passed away in December. My small way of paying tribute to the bestselling author of spy-espionages. But no, it too just wasn’t my cup of tea.
With fiction, it’s always kind of a touch-and-go for me since I left my childhood behind. No surprise then that I’ve never posted a fiction book review on my blog.
The funny thing is I don’t even know what made me pick this one up. And better yet, decide now to review it here, making it my blog’s inaugural fiction book review.
I mean this book was published by Penguin Random House nearly a decade ago for crying out loud! And four years after that it became a major motion picture starring the irrepressible Emilia Clarke from HBO’s Game of Thrones fame.
Bottom line? Hardly a hot-off-the-press book review here, compared to the one I did on Reedsy for a book launched last month. (And by the way, that too wasn’t fiction either!)
But what’s that people always say? Never say never?
So here goes.
Me Before You
There probably was no better book to ease me back into the world of fiction than “Me Before You.“
As a caveat, while I’m usually more a fan of mystery whodunits and adventurous thrillers, my heart always had a soft spot for sappy romance movies and novels! (To my former student — you know who you are — I hope you’re reading this now haha!)
That probably explains why, while browsing bookshelves at the public library recently, the cover of this book caught my eye. It helped that I already had a vague impression of the movie (thanks to the picture you see above). Plus, the author had a really catchy name: Jojo Moyes. Hard to forget, right?
Okay, now that you know how it all came about, let’s get back to this fiction book review, shall we?
To scaffold it well for ease of reading, I’m going to do it (and hopefully others in the future) by answering three questions in the following order:
What’s At Stake
The plot centers around successful banker Will Traynor who became a quadriplegic after an unfortunate road accident. A blow to say the least since he was still in his 30s. Dashing, daring, and making big bucks in London, he was also born wealthy (his family owns a castle!) and was a sporty, adventurous world traveller about to get engaged to a token long-legged blonde bombshell.
In short, the typical tall, dark, rich, virile, active and handsome male protaganist worthy of any Mills & Boon novel.
Only this heroe’s life took a nasty turn.
In the story, Will became suicidal and sought euthanasia after two failed years of every possible treatment good money can buy. He was all ready to fly to a morbidly-named institution called Dignitas in Switzerland that provided legal mercy killing. Thankfully, his parents managed to persuade him to stay alive for six more months. To give life and living another chance.
Enter the requisite female lead from a humble working-class background, Louisa Clark (played by the coincidentally-named “Clarke”), as his quirky, hired caregiver by day. For the duration of those six months.
No surprise that sparks flew between them midway through the novel. (Hey, it’s a romance lit after all!)
But did the love connection happen in time to change Will’s mind and reverse his death wish? (Both the book and movie have been out some time now, so you don’t need me to spoil the ending for you!)
What I Liked
There were many themes in this seemingly straightforward tale by Moyes: rich vs poor, self-worth and identity, inclusion and acceptance, revenge, betrayal, mercy, family ties, and everything in between!
No sense (nor space) here for me to talk about them all.
But this I do say.
What I liked best about the novel was how the author took her time to unpack for Louisa (and, by extension me the reader) how genuinely stark, gloomy, and ultimately helpless the life of a paralyzed person can be. How simply everything we AB (able-bodied) take for granted feels like an insult to people like Will.
He’s robbed of the control of nearly all body parts from the neck down (other than slight finger-thumb controls on one hand). This made him completely dependent on the kindness and care rendered by his family, medical staff (including the day nurse Nathan), and of course Louisa.
In essence, robbed of the ability to decide for himself on even the minutest of details in day-to-day living, like shaving and eating.
And to live a dignified life, the life that Will once embraced before the tragic accident.
That’s essentially what a disability like Will’s does. Not forgetting the constant life threats lurking around every corner, including the dreaded pneumonia, and greater susceptibility to infections.
The story really made me rethink and relook at the thorny and controversial issue of euthanasia.
What I Took Away
I think I get it now.
Even though I’m probably gonna stay a pro-lifer by default, I think with age and insightful books like these to read, I’m no longer a big fan of the “tyranny of the ‘or‘ ” (as the authors of Built to Last call it).
To paint the world so simply, like those in either the ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ camp do, is not only divisive and harmful, it discounts the everyday realities facing many who are severely disabled in this world, not to mention their loved ones and caregivers.
Since embarking on my own raw and unfinished journey with autism and parenting, I’m learning that things aren’t as cookie-cutter as they seem.
Life is truly so much more complex!
Yet, isn’t it ironic how so many in the world pay only lip service to that last statement I just made?
For when push comes to shove, these same folks will fight you tooth and nail to:
1. solve “it” (the issue/disability/problem/conundrum/dilemma/what-have-you at hand), as though it was a mere hiccup in an ongoing business transaction; or
2. deny that “it” is in fact an issue/ disability/problem, etc in the first place, or
3. pooh-pooh those who choose to wallow in “it”, as though to do so was a sign of weakness, cowardice or inaction.
Well, I hope such folks will pick up this book, read it, and learn how wrong they are!
Sure, everyone should hold a view and take a stand. Generally speaking. So go ahead. Pick a side, be it pro-choice (euthanasia) or pro-life (endurance).
But I hope after reading this book, folks will at the very least acknowledge that to have a principle, in “general”, doesn’t mean you ignore the unique application of it in “particular”.
Because every particular circumstance, every nuanced situation, is different and deserving of its own day in court.
For each of us to judge how best to handle it.
If ever it comes to that point when we need to.
A prospect I wouldn’t wish on anyone of course, not even the wealthy Will Traynor. And most certainly not me!
But from now on, I will certainly be more nuanced and circumspect when confronted with life/death decisions and choices.
So thanks Ms Moye for a wonderful tale, and for broaching a difficult topic without any easy answers.
Oh, and of course, thanks for a great read too! One I would highly recommend to anyone looking for the next must-read.