By Soyeenka Mishra
‘Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle.’
I cannot discern whether I finished reading this book or the book ended me way before. Probably both. But the reason why that so comes later, doesn’t it? Riiight, on to the beginning…I wish I could tell you that I read this book with an unbiased mind without comparing it to its charming movie adaptation, but I can’t, considering how the latter is something quite close to my heart. I chose Me Before You as my next read after a good long bout of trepidation for mainly two reasons: the first being the fact that I tried reading it a couple of years back when I first watched and fell in love with the movie, but couldn’t read past a few dozen pages owing to all the differences; and the question of if I’d begin liking the movie less after reading the entire ‘story’, so to speak, being the second. Suffice to say, my decision was a great one, and I rewatched the movie to see it in a new – better – light, with more depth now that I was privy to further information, and naturally, some parts felt lacking and diminished, but there’s no love lost here. A little advice: better be prepared to find me comparing the adaptation to the source more than a few times in here; it might save you some frustration.
‘It is funny. In a crappy sort of way.’
Diving right away into the actual book, I sort of didn’t like Lou’s family straight away. Maybe, just maybe, I should’ve been a tad more understanding about this, but after reading most of the book from Lou’s POV, I can’t help but resent some of the members, Treena especially, to be specific. She meant well mostly, but she just rubbed me the wrong way – there were little things that one’s probably overlooked while looking through far lenses that enraged me irrationally half the time. All the sacrifices Lou had to make in ways big or small, the constant taunts and jabs from her father that became grating after a few times, the nutjob that Patrick seemed to be – all of it; I clearly see why Will Traynor wanted her out of that tiny little town and finally live her life, widen her horizons, reach her full potential, to use the wording from the book. The bright light that burns inside her would’ve been suffocated to death if her life hadn’t taken a turn for the best the day she took up the job to be Will’s caretaker. Moreover, since we’re on the topic of suffocation, let me express how happy I was when Lou finally split up with Pat. Even before Will’s entered into their lives, their soggy-potato-soup-like relationship was not it, man; it should’ve ended way before. But, voila, those jealous Will moments were oh-so-worth-it!
If I had to choose a single word to describe the book, it’d be ‘comfortable‘. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the movie so often that I virtually have all the dialogues memorised. Still, throughout my read, I had this constant sensation of warmth and cosiness – a comfort – in the company of those characters. Excluding the ending and certain sad-cup-of-coffee (read as despresso) moments, all those familiar characters, familiar settings, familiar talks, but with new information left to be uncovered made a very heady combination that had me right in all the feels. It’s not a story you’d want to read lightly to breeze through; you’ll want to drink in all those precious little exchanges and quips among the characters, the quirky actions and endless badgering. You’ll want to cherish and savour all those moments, not just because of what is inevitably to come later, but also because they’re that magnetic and unforgettable. You’ll be roped in so fast that before you know it, you’ll have fallen in love with the characters.
As excellent as the characters appear in the movie, the book was better by a landslide. Of course, it was! But my exclamation doesn’t end there. There was just so much more banter in the book, swearing included, which is always a good thing in my dictionary, ha! Lou’s delightful humour, Will’s hilarious but borderline rude sass, the familiarity and ease between them, the friendship and feelings, their relationship as a whole and the both of them as individuals. It’s as if we’ve been provided with a magnified view of all these. Stating all that must sound funny because, again, the book would comprise more details than its movie. Still, it’s like a huge novelty for me to finally know all of that. In a similar vein, we got to explore a more humane side of Mama Traynor (including a significantly stricter and nearly snobby side) which was refreshing yet sad. Patrick was still as insufferable as he always had been, if not more, though Treena’s character was slightly trickier.
‘Some mistakes… have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let that night be the thing that defines you.’
Now I’ll talk about Will and Lou exclusively. It gave me no small amount of pleasure whenever I took a hiatus from reading to think about how long these two had come from their initial, unpleasant beginning. As much I loved the back-and-forth wisecrack-spouting sessions they had, their deep conversations were equally riveting. I always knew about Will’s difficulties and the reasoning behind his decisions. Still, we never got to see any natural background behind Lou, the reason why she wasn’t the most enthusiastic about trying new stuff and chasing after new experiences and, like spreading her wings in general. Even if her traumatic past was present in the book for shock factor, it did its job very well. Will comforting Lou after her break down and opening up was so tender and wholesome; I loved it. The ridiculous debacle with the drunk dudes at the horseracing event, the beautiful concert, Mary Rawlinson and her fruity language got fruitier with every fruity drink at Rupert and Alicia’s wedding, Will and Lou’s tattoos out of all things. After witnessing the fun times such as these, the periods of Will being sick in any way, his ‘difficult’ days, him being down and irritated and uncomfortable. Those portions were patches of dull grey in the journey of reading the book in colour with all its brightness if it makes sense. Likewise, when Lou was running out of time and worked day and night to schedule all their trips and adventure – something, anything – in her effort to change Will’s mind possibly, her desperation was felt by me through osmosis. I’m never going to be able to read that word without thinking of the penultimate chapter now as I raced to turn page after another, impatient to know what happens next yet dreading the end with all my heart.
‘You are scored on my heart, Clark. You were from the first day you walked in, with your ridiculous clothes and your complete inability ever to hide a single thing you felt.’
Knowing full well I can’t just run away forever from having to write about the ending, let’s broach that subject as if having one character named ‘Will’ die on me wasn’t anywhere near painful enough that there was the need for another. Since I already had more than a pretty good idea of what was to come, I had naïvely thought that mayhaps it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to traumatise one for the rest of their life, but man was I wrong. I must’ve taken at least a dozen breaks within the last sixth of the book to be stable enough to continue. The last few chapters, especially the last two, were hard, to put lightly. It was more so because of the parts where their trip is described. That. Last. Trip. To Mauritius, of course. The vibrant description of Will’s brightening spirit was as beautiful as it was deceiving. Far from home, he looked and felt truly at home, that he was enjoying himself so thoroughly, his improving complexion, disposition, and his general health, experiencing things to a limited point that his ‘old’ self loved to do. That after such a horridly long time, he could feel some real semblance of independence, being among friendly people with genuinely generous hearts who treated him like he’d wanted to be perhaps, after his accident. All of this had me in a trance, lulling me into a false sense of security, so when the ground would finally slip from under my feet, it’d have the desired effect. That’s why right after the penultimate chapter – which ended in Dignitas, with Will asking Lou to call in his parents, for it was time, there was no proper explicit closure about Will’s death, but just a report of a sort from the authorities regarding the legal and moral issues raised due to his act; it was jarring. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, he was gone. That cold transition from the very heart-touching and heart-rending last few moments of Will with Lou, with them spending those precious moments in each other’s arms, not talking, trying to take in and memorise each other’s features for the rest of their lives, respectively. That report talked about the incident in such a clinical and indifferent voice as if he was just another person as if he hadn’t just changed the reader’s life forever, as if he was just another body. It was disconcerting, if I were to name the exact thing I felt.
‘…music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.’
That brings me to the writing of the book. The language used was very flowy, for lack of a better word. I mean, when the paper isn’t embellished with heavy or esoteric words, I feel like I home in on the writing only when I’m not completely immersed in the plot. So, in that sense, apart from a few exceptions where I stumbled upon lexicons that I don’t come across too often, the words flowed smoothly enough that I kept on reading without a hitch. Talking of dictionaries, thanks to the movie, it’s perhaps one of those rare times when I read the characters’ dialogues in their canonical accents instead of a random one inside my head, which tickled me pink, I tell you. Also, I got two great movie recommendations from a book for this first time, the first being an anime and the other a biographical movie about paralysis. An online comrade warned Lou to ensure Will never watches, so naturally, I had to find out what it was about. I must say both of them were worthwhile. Throughout my reading, I had also mentally accumulated a lot of fun and hilarious moments, which I wanted to mention here, still, with the ending that careened me into an existential crisis, the grief has been overshadowed. My mind is completely blank right now. I can’t recall much of those optimistic and carefree times, which now feel like they went by in a flash.
‘I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.’
Towards the end, we shall agonisingly move over to the epilogue. Reading Will’s letter to Lou at the end was, tenderly, bittersweet. Experiencing his presence after six long months of his death, the same cheeky humour, the overbearing sass yet poorly veiled affection was exhilarating. But then, after getting to know what all he’d done for her?! It made him the sweetest person. He’d already won hearts when he kept agreeing to do all those events Lou organised even though he was never going to change his mind to make her happy. And now, after what he did, he earned himself a permanent presence in the hearts of a lot of people, I’d bet, mine included.
The point where this book comes to a close seemed very apt to me. Though, I would like to mention here that Lou’s mum putting her foot down and barring Lou from returning home isn’t necessarily an out-of-the-blue act considering the circumstances and the moral issues surrounding euthanasia and all. What made it seem a bit weird to me is that before that scene, her mum had never really stood out as a character? To me, she’d always been a part of the background, so her sudden entrance to the spotlight felt odd, somehow. As I say, at the beginning of this paragraph, it was a nice end to the story. Lou had managed to make those last six months the best six months of his life, in Will’s own words, which considering his ‘old’ life, may come off as surprising, but isn’t really if you think about it; Lou was just so full of spirit that one can’t help but go along. And in return, Will had bought Lou her freedom. I loved that particular element so much because he knew that the tiny dull town they both called home would trample Lou and her liveliness under the mountains of responsibilities and obligations. He thought far ahead. He was keeping in mind Lou’s budding ambitions and her best interests. It was beautiful how he gave her a chance at independence in her seemingly hopeless situation. Her character development alone proves what amazing things are to come her way henceforth, albeit with some ‘maudlin’ memories, as Will so condescendingly put it.
At last, the question arises: am I going to continue the series and read the following two books? Hmm, no, not at all, never planning on it. For one thing, from the synopses of the later books, it seems like the plot gets messier, and I do not want to taint my memories and sully the experience of Lou and Will and the first book in general. I make this very educated decision considering one experience with a trilogy already where books 2 and 3 were just unnecessary additions to the plot and didn’t enhance or add anything, on the contrary, even. And well, I’d like to believe that Will and Lou were the OTP, you know, meant for each other but destined to be apart, that type of couple. This way, what happens after the epilogue is up for my interpretation, and I am pretty content with it. I wouldn’t mind giving this book a re-read some time since I repeat myself, it’s got all those comfy vibes to it, and the general dynamic between Will and Lou was just hearty and witty. All in all, it was a lovely read, and everyone who is an absolute sucker for tearjerkers, such as yours truly, mustn’t miss it.