But It Wasn’t A Love Story

::this post contains spoilers about the books “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes::

The other night I saw a cute movie preview flash across my screen.  It was for the upcoming film version of “Me Before You”; the movie preview looked adorable and I was in need of a lighthearted read as I get into my heavier Lenten reading so I picked it up on a trip to the bookstore.  I had an inkling of how the book would end; I had read a little too far in some reviews, but wanted to give it a shot anyways.

It was a cute boy meets girl kind of story.  The main girl Louisa doesn’t really have a lot of plans or ambitions in her life until she meets Will, a classic all or nothing, good at everything – rich, handsome, talented, athletic – who was the victim of a car accident that left him with severe spinal cord injury.  Will can no longer move any of his limbs and is reliant on others for all of his care.  Louisa comes into be one of his aides and of course, he changes her life for the better.

Now Ms. Moyes could have taken an extremely lighthearted and probably unrealistic take on this scenario.  She could have had Will miraculously healed or other miraculous version of recovering or mental healing and while Will does “get better”, it’s not the ending most might expect.  You see he spends the entirity of his budding relationship with Louisa with a firm plan to be taken to Switzerland at the end of 6 months and commit suicide (euthanasia).  Louisa has been hired to be a guard on suicide watch and later as Will’s parent last attempt to change his mind.

Oh, how I’ve heard other rave about this “love story” and yes, there are aspects of a traditional romance novel there; they hate each other at first, slowly come to mutual respect and friendships which develops into something like love, but I don’t think this book should be called a love story.

I read in one review that a reader was confused by the title “Me Before You” and how that related to the storyline at all.  When I had finished the book it was clear to me; the title was not about Louisa and who she was before Will changed her life, the title was about Will choosing himself above everyone else.

Now, that may sound a bit callous.  I do not know what it’s like to be in a medically fragile state, dependent on the care of others and I won’t pretend to and I’m quite hesitant to voice my opinion on the subject because I realize I’m looking at it from a complete outsiders vantage. I’ve done a little extra reading and seen that Ms. Moyes received some good feedback from the quadriplegic community in describing their daily struggles both inward and outward.  These parts were so helpful to read – she made me stop and think about my own reactions and interactions, my own expectations and assumptions.  But in the end, whether you feel strongly about the subject of euthanasia or not, I would think that it’s clear that Will chooses himself.  There is love there, of course, he does wonderful things for the last bit of happiness in his life; he leaves a pleasant final legacy in this woman who is more fearless and inspired in the world, but it’s still not enough for me to consider it a love story.

I almost wish the rest of the book hadn’t been so lighthearted and fun.  The subject matter is serious and could have gone much further.  At the end of the book, even though yes I was crying a bit, my first thought was “That was a bit romantic, but it was not love.”  In the end, our poor character Will couldn’t give himself to love as he was unable to pull himself out of the memories of a perfect past.  He was too haunted, too broken of a spirit as he chooses in the end to go through with his plans painfully aware of what his choice is doing to his friends and family.  It’s not an ending that I can rally behind (though I wouldn’t necessarily want it to have a falsely optimistic, miraculous healing ending either) – though don’t confuse that with a lack of empathy for people and families who’ve faced this outcome after a life altering event – and because of that I can’t see it as a true love story.  That’s not how love works in my book.  I’m not saying it would be easy to choose love as I understand it in this context, but when I strip it all down it doesn’t qualify when in the end you do choose yourself.  But if anything, his gift was giving Louisa a love of herself; a desire to go out and demand better for her life, but let’s not call it a love story.  Let’s not romanticize the struggles the book introduces us to under its chipper writing and hopeful attitude.

I still want to see the movie.  It looks adorable and charming for the most part, but I can’t help wonder if I’ll be the only one in the theatre, with tears in her eyes at the end, still thinking “… but it wasn’t a love story.”

Has anyone else read this?  What was your take on it?

9 thoughts on “But It Wasn’t A Love Story

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  1. I read this but didn't like it at all. The whole thing felt so gray and bleak to me, although know it's not supposed to be full of joy considering the circumstances…and I think I was really bothered by Will's condition constantly thinking what if it was me or a family member and how hard that must be. (I do agree that the movie trailer looks fun and light-hearted!)
    And, like you, I couldn't rally behind the ending. I felt like Will was holding back the whole time, just biding his time until Switzerland. I don't understand all the reviews on Goodreads from people enamored with the book! It isn't a love story.

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  2. I agree – even at the end when she's expressing her love I don't think he really did, not in any way that made me feel like he'd really let himself fall in love. Kind of like he knew that if he let his guard down he would be, but in the end he never did. Maybe with the impression that he knew he wouldn't go thru with it if he let himself fully love an in the end he chose himself.

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  3. I read it and felt much the same way you did, but to a greater degree I felt that this book really does sentimentalize and normalize euthanasia. I feel it's really dangerous to have a love story wrapped around such a destructive ending and how everyone sees it as a tearjerking love story! It's really disturbing. This man chooses to end his life to the detriment of the family and those who care for him. It's not loving at all. It's barely romantic. I was a caregiver like Louisa who worked with people who were terminally ill and some that were paralyzed in a similar way, and although I know they struggled they never thought about ending their lives or using their illness to hurt those around them who they loved and who loved them. If anything they valued life much more than those of us who are healthy. I think about this book often, and people still talk about it as one of their favourite books and it just really makes me wonder that we've already lost the argument when it comes to euthanasia.

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  4. Agreed – there was definitely a very strong undercurrent there about “choice” which was sadly disturbing. I think there was good intention and something like love in his actions – trying to help her out of herself, etc., but once it's clear he's stuck on his course of action it's obvious he won't ever give himself to love. So yeah, a lot of little “romantic” moments does not a love story make.

    I still feel like I like the book – but not because I'm reading a love story rather because I'm reading the story of the possibility of love when someone has already given up. I actually wish it had been a more serious storyline and really had delved into this more.

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  5. I don't know, the more I think about the book the more I feel manipulated into accepting euthanasia as a plausible, excusable “choice”. I just feel manipulated by the story. All positive things that could have come from Louisa's growth and love for him are dashed and overshadowed by a selfish choice that the reader is forced to accept just as those in his life were forced to accept. I guess I just don't like the book and find whatever's good about it is ruined by the themes.

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  6. I can understand that =) I definitely find it worrying that people find it romantic or somehow depicting of love; I think knowing the choice he made at the end while I read the book helped me come at it from a different way – it was the story of a girl who falls in love with a broken man, while I cried at the end because the choice was tragic the things I liked about the book were it's depictions of his struggles, her optimism and work (did none of his family ever think of searching out others!!?!), but definitely the conclusion I came to was not “oh how tragically romantic”, but just “how tragic”.

    It's definitely good for a discussion starter though.

    But gosh darn it the movie trailer so adorable…. 😉

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  7. I remember right after I read it I wasn't too mad about it. But as time has passed and I think back on the book it makes me angrier and angrier. And the thing is, there isn't any discussion about it. You just hear lots of women saying how much they love it — you don't hear them having moral reservations about it, or being shocked at the ending, or disliking how selfish he was. You just hear how emotionally pulling it was, and that's how these moral arguments get lost. Because people form moral opinions on emotions. Ugh, sorry. I don't mean to rant, but it just really bothers me.

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