Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Me Before You"

Have you ever picked up a novel expecting it to be a great read, but instead find yourself being pummeled with a “message”? You know the type, the ones where some highly publicized real life event is bastardized by a fiction writer in an attempt to capitalize on the sensation, or tell the other side of the story, or worse, push a personal agenda in the guise of thoughtful fiction. If you’ve ever read a Jodi Picoult book I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Picoult fans, please don’t get up in arms, I’ve read, and enjoyed a few of those very books, but being smashed in the head with a hammer loses its appeal after a while. So, unless it’s done in a very tongue and cheek manner (thank you Max Barry) I try to avoid hot button novels.

Jojo Moyes, author of The Last Letter from Your Lover, a book I enjoyed, has produced with her newest novel Me Before You, a hot button novel, in that the story tackles the issue of assisted suicide. Usually, this has me running to me pile in search of something else to read, but in the case of Moyes’ work, what could have been a politically and socially fired look at suicide and Dignitas (a non-profit Swiss assisted dying group that helps those with terminal illness and severe physical and mental illnesses die through the aid of doctors), what readers get instead is a moving portrait of lost dreams, family, friendship, and unlikely love. Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark and Will Traynor. At the end of her financial rope, 26 year old Louisa takes a job as companion to Will, a wealthy go-getter and thrill seeker, who is now a quadriplegic with little joy in his life, a large chip on his shoulder, and a far-reaching plan to end his suffering. As a reluctant friendship ensues, Lou must find a way to teach Will that he still has a life worth living.

This is a touching tearjerker that manages to display humor, love, and warmth. The characters are well-drawn, showing complexity that is rarely present in these types of books. Their chemistry is a blend of fire cracker and over-enthusiastic childlike behavior, that creates a constant tug of war for the readers, drifting emotionally from embarrassed discomfort, gut-clenching laughter, snide snickers, misty eyes, and gulping tears; a mixture that works to enrapture and captivate through the novel’s beautifully written conclusion.

What easily could have been a story where an author shoves her opinion down the readers’ throats becomes a wonderfully touching narrative that presents the information and conclusion softly, allowing us to digest and process in our own ways. Author Moyes handles a rather controversial subject with a deft and a respectful hand; a thoughtful way to approach such a difficult topic, one which is too infrequently used by mega-authors such as Picoult. So, if you are looking for a novel that approaches a real concept and handles it humanely, with three-dimensional characters you grow to love, scars and all, Me Before You is your book. A quietly riveting novel from beginning to end.

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