‘Me Before You’ by JoJo Moyes
I’m pretty sure JoJo Moyes wrote Me Before You with a movie deal in mind. It’s very Bridget Jones-esque, but with a few twists here and there, a la Nicholas Sparks or John Green, that are sure to provoke some tears.
Here’s the general idea: Louisa Clark, who is somewhat eccentric and who possesses the unflappable good humor required of a long-time waitress, loses her job when the cafe she works for shuts down. After a humorous short series of bad jobs, she’s hired as a companion for Will Traynor, a young man who became a quadriplegic after a traumatic accident. Will is quite miserable with the state of his life, especially when he finds out that his ex-girlfriend is going to marry his former best friend, and Louisa’s job is to bring spark back to his life.
The stakes are raised when Louisa realizes that she has only been hired for six months because Will and his parents have come to an agreement: he won’t attempt suicide (again) if, after six months, they agree to take him to an assisted suicide facility in Switzerland. So Louisa’s job become convincing Will that suicide is not appealing.
And therein lies my dilemma with this book. It is admirable that Moyes has attempted to take on this enormous issue within the scope of what is generally referred to as “chick lit.” I don’t believe Bridget Jones would ever find herself in this situation, and she could hardly deal with it with more grace and aplomb than Louisa Clark. Despite her initial shyness and hesitancy, Louisa quickly learns how to perform basic medical tasks for Will as well as how to relate to him as a person, rather than a person in a wheelchair. Moyes has clearly done extensive research regarding the needs of quadriplegic patients, and she addresses issues and difficulties that able-bodied people such as myself would not have even considered.
But two things stuck out for me in this book. First, despite the recited cocktail of pills Will apparently takes, he is not on any antidepressants. He’s tried to commit suicide before, and one would imagine he’d be in therapy or be taking something to help ease the transition into his new life. He may have refused any treatment, but I can’t help but feel this is a glaring omission. A medical report in the book states that Will hasn’t been diagnosed with any mental illnesses, but surely depression is present.
Second, it bothers me that this book essentially endorses assisted suicide for all quadriplegics, since if anyone can, surely Will has the determination and resources to live a pretty full life. I understand assisted suicide in certain situations, but Will’s doesn’t make sense to me. He tells Louisa her job is to “live life fully,” but he seems unwilling or unable to push his own new life to its limits. He’s very mansplain-y about this, too, telling her that one traumatic event shouldn’t define her whole life, while dismissing her protestations that his accident shouldn’t define his.
I get the frustration; Will is facing a life totally and completely different from the one that defined him before. But who you are is not about what you do, a point that Will and Moyes fail to see clearly. Since Will has the resources to afford the best care, the best help, the best equipment, every single thing that could make his life easier and better, one could argue based on his own logic that he has an obligation to take advantage of those things.
Apparently, assisted suicide is about choice, about seizing control that has been stripped away. I get that. There’s also this sense of throwing away whatever you have left, of saying that life is not worth living as you are. Quadriplegia would totally change the course of one’s life; but that doesn’t mean the life left is worthless, as Moyes seems to suggest.
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