Monday, 6 February 2012

'Me Before You' By Jojo Moyes A very personal book review

Normally, i would jot down a few words about The Writer and his doings here on the blog, but today i'm going to write a book review. I've not written a book review before. I've never felt compelled to. I read a book, spend time thinking about that book (the time varies from 2 minutes to a day or two) and move on to the next one. But last week i read a book that moved me so much i'm sure i'm going to be thinking about it for a long time to come.

I'd never read a Jojo Moyes book before. I chose to read 'Me Before You' as i have been in a similar situation to Lou, who takes a job looking after Will, a quadraplegic as a result of a motorcycle accident. Lou is in her twenties, Will in his thirties. Lou wants to give Will a reason to live and, having spent her life in a small town, has to expand her own horizons beyond the stifling town to try and give Will experiences that will show him life is still worth living. However life for Will, who has led up until his accident a very privileged and varied one, has changed beyond recognition. People don't see how depression can set in due to a combination of frustration and  many ongoing medical problems.

As i mentioned, i too have been in a similar situation to Lou. When i was 18 i was a a carer for a young quadraplegic who too was 18. I came from a working class background and Gareth, who was disabled due to a motorcycle accident, was part of a family who owned a chain of hair salons.He had all the problems that Jojo has highlighted in her book- muscle tremors, terrible depression and sores. He was hospitalized on several occasions due to respiratory problems. Like Will in the book, he liked to watch films, listen to his (rock) music and tolerated friends when they came to visit, which to be fair, was a couple of times a month.
Visits out were always interesting. Like Lou driving Will's car, i would drive Gareth about on occasion. Yes,  we got stuck in carparks and yes, we were stared at, particularly when Gareth decided once to have dinner in a really fancy restaurant dressed in his denims and leathers. Once, when his catheter bag was full i had to empty it in a carpark. He told me to empty the bottle in the lift, because wasn't that where everyone peed?

The relationship between Lou and Will and their respective families is beautifully and sympathetically explored and never overplayed. Camilla, Will's mother is very similar to Gareth's- nervy, constantly worrying and unsure of how her son is going to be physically and mentally on a day to day basis. How could a mother be any other way? Furthermore, the triangle that is Lou, her longterm boyfriend Patrick and Will is, i feel, a very true account of how personal relationships can shift and change when somebody works as a carer in this capacity. Indeed, i was engaged to be married when i started work for Gareth and and it wasn't easy when i spent more hours in a day with Gareth than i did with my husband to be.

 As the story progresses we see Lou develop from being a small town girl into a confident young woman thanks to Will's encouragement and financial help.
I won't reveal the books ending, but my story has a sad one. Gareth passed away at the age of 30 due to an eating disorder.
I'd seen him on and off in the intervening ten years before he died, either at his home, which he shared with his parents, or now and again in the pubs in town. I would still be worrying that he wasn't warm enough, tucking his blankets round his legs. He would give me a rye smile and tell me stop worrying, it wasn't my job anymore. I was Gareth's carer for two years and although at times challenging, being with him was probably the making of me.

'Me Before You' will make you laugh out loud, will take you to some very dark places and make you cry your eyes out. For me, it provoked memories of a time in my life that i had filed away under 'life experience'- and Jojo writes so vividly i found myself sifting through a file i haven't visited in a long time. I don't know where Jojo did her research but it's spot on, you care almost too much for the characters and i didn't want the book to end.
If you haven't read 'Me Before You' you must. Go buy a copy now.
Thankyou Jojo.

I wrote this review for two reasons: One, because i mentioned to Jojo briefly in a tweet that i too had cared for a quadraplegic and she asked me to let her know what i thought of her book.
Secondly, i felt that writing a review of this particular book was not only carthartic for me, but to let others know there is more than one 'Will' in the world. And to remind us all that no matter what this life holds in store for us we must still have the right to make choices.

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