Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
“So don’t read rubbish” is the line to take away from this book. Page 156. That’s all you need. Ignore all the other Facebook-meme-worthy pablum.
Following a bad landing after a skydiving cutaway more than thirty years ago, a good friend of mine spent some time in a wheelchair. We went to see a movie downtown (Christopher Reeve’s “Superman,” ironically and a wee bit synchronistically*) and that was quite the adventure, in the days before curb ramps and accessible entrances and smaller, more lightweight chairs that might have folded and fit relatively easily into a typical car. Even worse were the people who either talked to my friend like he was six or just looked over his head entirely. This book was a good chance to introduce massive amounts of readers to life from a wheelchair.
Hopefully that message gets through, anyway.
I had my doubts after the ridiculous racetrack scene, but kept going. I was almost halfway through, after all, and the thing had started with a Bridget-Jones-ish-ness to it that was appealing. But it went inexorably downhill, like a runaway wheelchair on a sloping driveway (or is it too soon?). Why is everybody so insulting to Lou all the time? Why is she such a beanbrain? Are those two questions a chicken-or-egg thing? Why should having a baby make a woman completely unattractive? How do you get to be a 26-year-old millennial and be utterly clueless about computers? Why does this wealthy and socially forward family have no access to anyone who can hook them up with tech like Stephen Hawking has? And, what may be nagging at me the most, what government job and retraining center refers candidates for pole dancing? Maybe that was supposed to be a joke, but it didn’t seem to be written that way.
Because everything’s a plot device, that’s why, including quadriplegia and rape. The characters are offensively stereotyped even if it makes them glaringly contradictory, just to cobble a plotline together. Example: Our adorably klutzy heroine, after enduring a gang sexual assault, refuses to wear anything “that could be construed as suggestive” (to show how wounded and not-asking-for-it she is), but is later wearing a red satin dress that is “all cleavage” (to make Our Hero see how desirable and vulnerable she is) and voluntarily mouth-kisses a whole bunch of drunken soldiers she doesn’t even know in exchange for some muscle (to show what a plucky, resourceful, good sport she is). See the problem I have with this? Tropes, tropes, tropes, most notably the tired old falling-madly-in-love-after-the-hate-meet.
Bridget Jones is fleeting and false, but Galatea is right there. She doesn’t change her life because she wants to; she changes her life because a man tells her she should. Sexual assault is caused by revealing clothes. Girls are stupider than boys. If you want to be worthy and fulfilled you have to go to the symphony and read Literature with a capital L. Having babies makes you undesirable. You’re supposed to want marriage and kids for a fulfilling life. It’s OK to put up with being constantly put down and insulted if it’s men doing it. Ad nauseum. And that’s not getting into the classist and ableist stereotyping.
I notice that people who hate this book tend to hate it because of the ending, although that’s what I have the least problem with. I was expecting one predicable bit of emotionally manipulative sap, so I’ll give a couple of points back to Moyes for surprising me. Dying with dignity, even when you have people who love you and don’t want you to go before you have to — I get that. Different people decide to end their lives for different reasons; each of us will find different conditions acceptable or intolerable, according to our own viewpoints and experience. I just find it hypocritical and juvenile that the takeaway is the “it’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible” blahblahblah, coming from a character who will not accept that “as possible” automatically includes the limitations each life has. So I guess “don’t settle” is the better motto — if you can’t have everything you want, then it’s OK to not be grateful for everything you do have and just chuck all of it. All of which is, admittedly, food for thought.
But by the time we go through all these considerations, the biggest problem I have is still the sophomoric improbability of the whole thing — that an educated, cultured, and wealthy quadriplegic with serious health issues can’t live in London for some vague reason, but can live alone in a small town and be left in the sole care of an untrained and uneducated doofus, who turns out to be the only person on the planet who turn him onto voice-command software and special seating for the wheelchair-bound. The whole underlying premise is silly.
The good news is, I may have finally learned that books with red/pink covers and/or titles in swirly-girly typeface are not to be read, under any circumstances, no matter how many good reviews there are. I want to say that people who like this book have the reading taste of troglodytes** but I suppose that’s not really fair. I read some trash too, but I read the good trash.
*And now I get a cookie, for making up a pretty cool word only to learn it actually is a real word. I love it when that happens.
**I get another cookie for using “troglodyte,” which is one of my most favoritest words ever.