Friday, July 19, 2013

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: My take on the book

The jacket copy for Jojo Moyes' Me Before You asks the question "What do you do when making the person you love happy means breaking your own heart?"  It's a question, given the unique context of this story, I pondered again and again over the course of reading this honest, poignant and often humorous love story; my answer as changeable and hard come-by as Louisa's.

Louisa is the tiny, 26 year old self-described "ordinary girl leading an ordinary life". I balked at that when I read it; was taken aback by a young woman labeling herself 'a girl', but that's very much what Louisa is, despite her age. Louisa herself tells us her mother "reached out her hand and felt my forehead as if I were much younger than twenty-six." Don't get me wrong, I like her but at the book's beginning it's difficult to see Lou as anything but callow, and almost stubbornly clinging to her status quo.  She's been dating the same guy for six years; she hasn't thought about it much but supposes they'll marry at some point and she'll 'pop out a couple of kids'.

There are reasons that Louisa is stuck in girlhood; born and raised in the fictional English tourist town of Stortfold, complete with castle and maze, Louisa has never been anywhere, done anything.  An incident in her teens may have stunted her growth as well, so that while her younger sister whizzed past her academically, and left home, Louisa stayed home with her parents, chipping in her salary from the Buttered Bun, a local cafe where she's worked for six years before it closes, leaving Louisa jobless. 

But what to do? When it comes to her skill set, she's utterly lacking. In the words of her father, pondering her only possible job reference "Oh fecking marvelous ... 'Louisa Clark is very good at buttering toast, and a dab hand with the old teapot.' "

After a few false starts a desperate Louisa accepts a job as a caretaker - she labels it "wiping it old people's bums" until she's assured that her charge is neither old, nor in need of toileting help, at least not from her.

Enter Will Traynor. 

Handsome former Master of the Universe, Will is a paraplegic; miserable in his wheelchair bound existence. Louisa's job - she's been hired by his mother - to cheer him up; help him find a reason to live. Not an easy task. Paralyzed from the waist down in an accident two years ago, Will's past was filled with the best life had to offer; education, financial success, travel and adventure, excitement and love. Louisa, innocent and ignorant,having little to offer but good intentions, makes it her mission to help him live the best life his limitations afford. Will, seeing Louisa's brightness and potential, counters by making her, his Eliza Doolittle. Seeing how these two change each other, watching Louis transform from the frightened little girl we first meet into the brave and capable young woman who courageously answers the dust jacket question is the great joy - and kick in the gut - of this book. 

What I especially loved was how Moyes didn't shy away from the uncomfortable details of Will's quadriplegic state and its' truly heart-wrenching challenges - not the least is dealing with pity; I don't think I'll ever look at a quadriplegic the same way again. And the light Moyes brings to the issue at the heart of the novel - read it and weep -  left me dazed and confused, shocked and surprised by my own inner struggle. I loved Lou and Will. I wish this beautifully written love story could have gone on forever.

Will it make a good movie? Oh yeah!  First of all, great location, although I'd set my castle town by the sea.  But it's the characters, and their relationship in this extraordinary situation that really make this story. While the casting of Will and Lou is the most critical, Moyes surrounds the couple with a compelling array of friends and family that I can't wait to see on screen. Pat, Lou's fitness obsessed boyfriend; Mrs. Traynor, Will's upset and uptight mother; Nathan, Will's cheerful and capable caretaker, Louisa's entire family all jumbled together in their small, hectic household. 


Michael Fassbender
Casting Me Before You:  Michael Fassbender kept leaping to mind as I thought about Will. Sexy and gorgeous, that's a given, but in Fassbender I see the type A personality Action with a capital A guy Will Traynor used to be, as well as the dark, brooding Will, helpless in his chair, we see when he meets Louisa. Thoughts?
Any suggestions for Louisa, with her dark little head, funky fashion sense, naivete and grit? No actress is screaming Louisa to me and I wonder if that's because the character is such a complex combination of innocence, insecurity, determination and ultimately womanly maturity that the role calls for a fresh new face that we can meet along with Will, someone who can surprise us with her growth. 

MGM nabbed the screen rights to Me Before You back in January. I know lots of you have read it already - who would you cast in the pivotal parts of Will and Lou?  I first blogged that the book was being adapted for the screen back in January.

UPDATE: OCTOBER 2014 

5 comments:

  1. This is a really fine review. I think you should complement your book-into-film blog with writing more book reviews.

    I would love to see a couple of unknowns cast in this film. I don't have my finger on the Hollywood pulse like you do, and I think Fassbender would make a fine Will Traynor (though my heart probably lies more with Ian Somerhalder for the role), but I'd love to see a wider pool out there. It seems like we seem the same 20-30 actors for any given demographic and I know damn well that there are others out there.

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  2. You really do say the nicest things! Thank you. Actually, I would like to; I have a few on my list that I'm trying to get to but I'm terribly slow and it is such hard work.

    You're right about the same slew of faces time and time again; it's so easy to go to them without thinking. I plead guilty too; hopefully the director will want to take time to explore a wider range. There really is something so authentic about these two that the more I think about it, I feel they both need to be lesser known actors. I don't want to be distracted for an instant staring at Will's legs and pondering whether, Fassbender for example, is pulling off playing a paraplegic. It's so beside the point, and so has to be set aside. It could be brilliant in fact if an actual quadriplegic was cast. What do you think?

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  3. After a lot of build-up (by others), I finally read this book recently - alas, didn't find it nearly as moving as everyone promised (did I mention build-up?!). Personally, I think this will be a rare case of the movie being better than the book for me. My only hope for the movie is that they keep the English setting - would be a terrible shame if they shifted it to the US.

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  4. Okay, you've convinced me that I need to give the book another try. A lot of times if I don't finish a book, it's about where I am instead of about the book itself. Great review.

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