When I pick up romance, chick lit, love stories – whatever you want to call them – I understand that I am reading a certain formula and adjust any expectations I might have accordingly. Despite having done this, I was still unimpressed with Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. But first, let’s recap the (formulaic) plot:
Louisa Clark, a working class woman in her mid-20s with no qualifications, has just lost her job at the local café. She eventually finds work as a caregiver for paraplegic Will Traynor, a smart and sexy businessman paralyzed from the shoulders down after an unfortunate motorcycle accident. Will is understandably grumpy and difficult, Louisa lacks worldly experience; the two don’t get along. They eventually begin warming up to each other and bond in a way that bolsters Louisa’s confidence and expands her small-town horizon and unburdens Will, if only a little. The real challenge comes when Louisa learns of Will’s intent to commit suicide and dedicates herself to changing his mind. Cue the rest of this oversized, at times boring, at times legitimately tear-jerking, novel.
So what is so wrong with this acknowledgedly predictable story? Let’s start with the writing. The novel is told mostly from Louisa’s first-person point of view, with occasional shifts, still in first-person, to other characters in the novel like her sister Katrina and Will’s father Steven. Despite these shifts, the narrative voice remains the same simplistic tone that is also oddly refined for a lowly-educated, working-class, exclusively tabloid-reading girl like Louisa. Granted, we can assume Louisa may be writing this story later, after she’s had time to polish herself, which is the trajectory the novel sets Louisa on by its end. But I would still expect Steven’s portion of the narration to read differently.
Then there’s the plot. Predictability still has to be done right. Some instances are so pointless or unnecessarily dragged on that I skimmed pages at a time. In terms of characterization, Will is the only character that is nicely fleshed out, perhaps because of his paralysis, which gives him a depth that the other characters lack. The rest, including our dear Lou, are just stock characters. This may be in line with the romance formula, but it doesn’t make it memorably so.
Overall, this story doesn’t work in writing. While it won’t take that long to read (especially with the skimming), it’d certainly go by faster in visual form that is guaranteed to yank even more tears out of you. So it’s fitting that the movie adaptation is being released in June (for the Netherlands), co-written by Moyes, which is where Me Before You should have gotten its start.