At last a novel with someone with severe spinal cord injuries - but don’t get too excited, the author has managed to side-step the reality of life with a disability today. Me before You tells the story of Will Traynor, who after a motorbike accident two years ago sustained spinal cord injuries rendering him quadriplegic, and Lou (Louisa) Clark who is hired by his mother, Camilla to work with her son and give him something and someone to live for in his extremely restricted life. Prior to the two main characters meeting, Moyes shows how they are both in different ways ‘paralysed’. Will is literally paralysed but his mindset is also stuck, in that he thinks his life is over. Louisa is paralysed in terms of her life. She is still living with her parents and feeling her life is going nowhere – even her boyfriend, Patrick has a face ‘that became instantly invisible’ in crowds. When Lou loses her job at the café it is the impetus to search for a job that pays well and is more suited to her. She goes to meet Camilla, after reading an intriguing but vague job advert, and is told her job would be will be to boost her son’s morale. But when she meets Will, who is obstinate and rude towards her she immediately thinks twice about taking up the post. After some thought about her family circumstances, the lack of money going into the household, and the amount of money she would be earning if she took the job, she decides to take it on the proviso that if she can’t manage it she wall have to find something else. Will and Camilla live in a large opulent house, a lot different than where Lou lives. The cramped conditions mean Lou currently sleeps in a closet, which further emphasises how much she is shut away from life. She finds out Will already has a carer to meet his physical needs, and for the first few visits she thinks she won’t be able to boost the morale of this belligerent 35-year-old, who seems to be annoyed about Lou, more than anything else. This is because Will is frustrated by the lack of ‘get up and go’ Lou has and how how little she has done in her life. This is contrasted with the exciting life Will led prior to his accident by “crushing people in business deals” scaling rock faces, swimming in volcanic springs and so on. As the pair get to know each other better Will finds some purpose in life by showing her what she has been missing by suggesting trips out, with his carer tagging along. Slowly, Lou starts to feel her life move forward and expand. At one point she even goes to the dreaded library, somewhere she hasn’t visited in all her life so that she can go online and find a forum for disabled people and their carers to find activities for Will. As Lou and Will grow closer, they both seem to be happy. But it’s all crushed when she finds out that Will is determined to, and ultimately does end his life. Lou finds out the real reason she was given the position. There was six months before Will would die and in that time, Camilla hoped him being with Lou would make him change his mind. Structurally these revelations come towards the end of the second half presumably, so the reader is as shocked as Lou by these revelations. The novel is written in a conversational, matter-of-fact language, which makes it very readable. For someone who has perhaps not experienced spinal cord injuries they will be emotional when Will pleads with Lou to “Promise me you won’t spend the rest of your life stuck around this bloody parody of a placemat”. Will is in effect pushing Lou’s life forward as he puts the brake on his own life. For those who do have such injuries, there are sections in the book, which has made it easier for the author to avoid what life is really like for the vast majority of those with spinal cord injuries. The first is the wealth, the vast and accessible property Will and Camilla live in and the fact he has full-time, live-in care. In the real world most properties aren’t accessible, and if they are - they might be out of the price bracket for most people. Getting care – especially full-time care is near impossible now but when it is in place, rather than just one carer worker there would be a host of different carers, some more accommodating than others. By giving Will the wealth, the property and the one carer means the author can avoid these potentially tricky aspects. Other clues include the fact Lou has a boyfriend; despite the intense, emotional connection she has with Will. By introducing the boyfriend, the author has ensured sex isn’t an option. This again feels like a cop-op. If she had done her research, she would know that even with severe spinal cord injuries can have sex with some assistance. The biggest problem is the ending. What is Moyes saying about those with such injuries? Is Moyes saying such lives become worthless following such a devastating injury? We should welcome the fact a severely disabled character is in such a bestselling book, but by making the ending so fatalistic, it feels like a missed opportunity to show there is life and love after a severe spinal injury.
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