Me Before You: A Novel
Pamela Dorman Books
Release Date: December 31, 2012
Hardcover: 384 pages
I couldn’t wait to dive into this book. I had only read a small synopsis sent by the publicist before I started reading. I knew the man in the story was paralyzed but didn’t really give it more than a passing thought until I read about his injury. His damage to his spine was in the C5-6 area, the exact same place as my injury. He is confined to a wheelchair with very little movement. This could have been me. I was lucky to have paralysis only claim one side of my body. This did give me pause but I continued reading. Will Traynor went through the same feelings and doubt and uncertainty that I did and still sometimes have. But he did do something I could never do. He decided to have 6 months with his family and then he would end his life at a assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland. Lou will do anything to get him to change his mind. To say this book affected me deeply in an understatement.
Jojo Moyes has written a brilliant story that was well researched. She incorporates spinal injury online support groups to help Lou understand what Will is going through. From experience I know the snippets in the book are credible. She has included a caregiver that takes care of the more personal and medical needs for Will so that Lou is more of a friend or companion at least at first.
She has also created a wonderful cast of supporting characters. Lou’s lower class family, working hard every day to try to keep up. Her sister, the family favorite, with her own personal battles. Lou’s boyfriend who has suddenly become a fitness guru. Then there is Will’s family. Upper middle class with a huge house and plenty of money. But even with their son’s disability aside, were they ever happy? I truly enjoyed the chapters when other characters took over and gave their perspective. We were able to get a deeper vision of their thoughts and impressions of their lives as well as their feelings about Lou and Will.
This was not a book that I could rush through but I feel that is because of my personal issues with the story. I found myself setting the book aside because some parts were so powerful or when I found myself actually crying so much the words were blurred. It is not your run of the mill love story. Feelings grew in ways that I didn’t even imagine. I don’t want to ruin the end for anyone but I was truly hoping for a different outcome. I understood, but as a person who has actually looked death in the eye and came back, life is just too precious to me.
An intense story, I highly recommend you have a box of tissues handy.
Q & A with JOJO MOYES,
Tell us a little about where your ideas for your characters and their stories come from.
They come from all over the place. It’s often a snippet of conversation or a news story that just lodges in my head and won’t go away. Sometimes I get an idea for a character too, and then unconsciously start knitting them together. Me Before You is the most “high concept” book I’ve ever written—in that I could describe it in two sentences. But most of them are a lot more organic and just contain lots of ideas and things that I’ve pulled together. With this book I think the issue of quality of life was probably to the front of my mind as I had two relatives who were facing life in care homes, and I know that in one case she would probably have chosen any alternative to that existence.
Which of the characters in Me Before You do you identify with the most?
Well, there’s definitely a bit of Lou in there. I did have a pair of stripy tights that I loved as a child! I think you have to identify with all your characters to some extent, or they just don’t come off the page properly. But I also identify with Camilla a bit. As a mother I can’t imagine the choice she has to make, and I could imagine in those circumstances you would just shut down a bit emotionally.
What made you choose to set Me Before You in a small historical town with a castle at its center?
I tried all sorts of settings for this book. I drove all over Scotland, trying to find a castle and a small town that would “fit.” It was essential that Lou came from a small town, rather than a city, because I live in one myself and I’m fascinated by the way that growing up in one can be the greatest comfort—and also incredibly stifling. I wanted a castle because it was the purest example of old money rubbing up against ordinary people. Britain is still incredibly hide-bound by class, and we only really notice it when we go to a place where it doesn’t exist in the same way, like the U.S. or Australia. I needed the class difference between Will and Lou to be clear.
We love the way you draw the social distinction between Lou’s working-class upbringing and Will’s upper-class background. Did you do that deliberately to introduce humor into what could otherwise have been a deeply tragic situation?
Yes I did. I thought that the subject was so bleak potentially that it was important to have a lot of humor in the book. But it adds a useful tension to the narrative too: offsetting the warmth and chaos of Lou’s home life with the more formal and reserved nature of Will’s relationship with his parents. And it gives Lou an added reason to feel totally out of her depth once she arrives there. From the point of the reader, it also gives Will a subtle advantage that is vital if we are to see him as Lou’s equal and not just an object of pity.
Your books always have an incredibly moving love story at the heart of them. What is it about the emotional subject of love that makes you want to write about it?
I have no idea! I’m not very romantic in real life. I guess love is the thing that makes us do the most extraordinary things—the emotion that can bring us highest or lowest, or be the most transformative—and extremes of emotion are always interesting to write about. Plus I’m too wimpy to write horror.
Have you ever cried while writing a scene in any of your books?
Always. If I don’t cry while writing a key emotional scene, my gut feeling is it’s failed. I want the reader to feel something while reading—and making myself cry has become my litmus test as to whether that’s working. It’s an odd way to earn a living.
Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?
I work in roughly set hours, but with three children and a lot of animals I’ve found you have to be flexible. If there are no disruptions I roll out of bed and straight to my desk and work from 6am to 7:30am, and then again after I’ve done the animals from roughly 10am to 2:30pm. My ideal time to work would be from 3pm to 10pm—but unfortunately that only happens if I go away and hide in a hotel.
When you form characters do you ever incorporate aspects from people you know?
Yes—but often without realizing. Luckily if you write a negative character trait people are rarely likely to recognize themselves. More often though the characters have elements of myself which I then stretch and exaggerate until they become their own. Lou, for example, contains something of the character I could well have been if I had married the man I got engaged to at 17. I would have led a very different life.
Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?
Oh, wow. If I can have dead and living writers, I’d have Anaïs Nin, Hemingway, Xenophon, Haruki Murakami, Jessica Mitford, and Nora Ephron. We’d meet in a smoky bar in Paris and I’d probably not say very much at all. I’d be awestruck and just sit there and listen.
Do any other writers inspire you?
Yes. I love Kate Atkinson for her inventiveness, and because as a reader you can give yourself over to a plot that seems to go everywhere, trusting that she will bring the ends together in the most satisfactory and unexpected ways. I love Barbara Kingsolver for her use of language and Nora Ephron for her wit and the way she writes about the business of love and being human. It’s always tricky reading too much of the writers who inspire you though; sometimes they’re so good you just want to give up and go and work in a chicken factory instead.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
I ride my ex-racehorse, Brian, and try to just hang out with my children without muttering: “I’ll be with you in a minute… I’ve just got to finish this…” A dream weekend, however, would be spent alone with my husband in Le Marais, Paris.
The Book Publicity Kit Even Includes This Recipe.
Lemon Cream Tart
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons stick margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups reduced-fat
vanilla wafer crumbs (about 36 cookies)
3 large eggs
1 (14-ounce) can low-fat sweetened
condensed milk (not evaporated skim milk)
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed and divided
10 lemon rind strips (optional)
Mint leaves (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°. Combine first 3 ingredients and beat at high speed of a mixer until blended. Add crumbs and toss with a fork until moist. Press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch round tart pan coated with cooking spray.
Bake at 325° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Combine eggs, milk, lemon rind, and juice in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool completely. Top with whipped topping. Garnish with lemon rind strips and mint, if desired.
About This Author
Jojo Moyes (b. 1969 in London, England) is a British novelist. She is one of only a few authors to have twice won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has been translated into eleven different languages. Moyes studied at Royal Holloway, University of London. She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to study journalism at City University and subsequently worked for The Independent for 10 years. In 2001 she became a full time novelist. She is married to journalist Charles Arthur and has three children. Find out more about Jojo Moyes here.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”