Review: Me Before You, By Jojo Moyes

I am pretty sure that this is a book that needs little introduction. Despite all the hype around the book and the film – or perhaps because of it – Me Before You was never really on my reading list. When my husband bought me After You (the sequel) as last year’s Jolabokaflod book; I thought I’d better get hold of the original first and see what all the fuss was about.

The Story

Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark, a 26-year old, recently redundant ex-waitress who accepts the position of carer for a young quadriplegic man, Will Traynor. What starts off as a somewhat rocky relationship gradually develops into something that will change both their lives.

The book opens with a snapshot of Will’s life before the motorbike accident which has left him paralysed, and completely dependent on other people. It is abrupt, over within a few pages; and creates a poignant point of comparison for what follows. Throughout the whole of the book, this is the only piece of narrative which is depicted from his point of view, and adds to the portrayal of his dependence on other people; as well as alluding to his experience of the general public in regards to disability and their attitude towards him in presuming that, because he is in a wheelchair, he no longer has a voice.

“…I had observed a few basic routines, as far as Will was concerned. Most would stare, a few might smile sympathetically, express sympathy, or ask me in a kind of stage whisper what had happened. I was often tempted to respond ‘Unfortunate falling out with MI6,’ just to see their reaction, but I never did.”

The Review

Me Before You elegantly and emotionally portrays the development of Will and Louisa’s relationship; from a state of mutual animosity to a strong and overwhelming love. The relationship presented between Louisa and Will is in sharp relief with the relationship between Louisa and Patrick, her boyfriend: a fitness fanatic who is obsessed with completing the Xtreme Viking, an intense triathlon in Norway. At times, Patrick is portrayed as almost comical; while their relationship gradually reduces to Louisa watching him run in circles around a running track, or listening to him talking about the merits of Japanese balancing trainers.

A favourite scene of mine occurs at Louisa’s birthday party; where Patrick and Will meet for the first time over dinner and, it is fair to say, do not get on so well. Louisa’s muted thanks for Patrick’s gift – jewellery – is thrown out of the water when she opens her gift from Will, a pair of yellow and black striped tights, just like a pair she used to have when she was young. This thoughtful action seems to be a turning point in the book; where we really see Will’s attitude begin to change.

The depiction of the two families – the Traynors and the Clarks – could not have been more different. The Traynors are rich and want for nothing; the Clarks in comparison are financially insecure and very dependent upon Louisa’s income to get by. However, when it comes to family bonds and closeness, the equation is completely reversed; the Traynors’ cold and distant attitudes and home in stark relief to the bubbly, noisy and loving Clark household.

While Louisa cares for Will, anticipating his every physical need as well as encouraging him to leave the house and start to see more of the world; Will in turn draws Louisa slowly out of her shell, encouraging her to read, watch foreign films, and embrace classical music and new foods. We learn that Louisa also carries secrets and scars, which Will helps to heal.

“I just… want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more.”

Jojo Moyes pulls you into this story so well that, before you know what’s going on, you are completely invested in the lives of these two people and the affect they have on each other. As the book progresses there are revelations on both sides, laughs, sadness and scares; as Louisa and Will fall in love. Because we only ever get to see the story from Louisa’s side, we are completely immersed in her plans, her beliefs and her hopes… and as such, completely floored by the way things unfurl towards the end of the book. I’m sure I was not alone in crying at the last few chapters. This was one of those books that left me hollowed out and a little bit numb once I turned the last page and closed the covers. For a few moments I am pretty sure I just sat staring at the blurb on the back of the book and wondering why on earth it had taken me so long to read it. This beautiful book will remind you, unashamedly and unequivocally, to just live. 

“You are scored on my heart, Clark. You were from the first day you walked in.”

After I’d finished Me Before You I picked up After You, the sequel I had been gifted… and stayed up until 12.30a.m this morning finishing it (it has taken 3 coffees to get me through today. Whoops). But that review, my friends, is a story for another day.

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Review: The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George

The Overview

The Little Breton Bistro (released 2nd March) is the latest offering from Nina George. Having devoured The Little Paris Bookshop on honeymoon last year, I couldn’t not request this ARC when I spotted it on NetGalley, and was pretty chuffed when my approval email came through!

The Little Breton Bistro follows protagonist Marianne on a quest to rediscover life. The book opens in Paris, on the banks of the Seine, as she prepares to take her own life. Stuck in an unhappy and loveless marriage to a dull and controlling man, Lothar; she just can’t see the point of going on living.

Her plan is thwarted by a homeless man who pulls her from the river, and she is whisked off to hospital for treatment. While she is in the hospital, she finds a small tile painted with the image of a beautiful port town, Kerdruc, in Britanny. She decides to escape the hospital, fully intending to complete what she started in Paris in this beautiful little port town.

The journey from the hospital in Paris to Kerdruc is full of quirky coincidences, and when Marianne finally arrives in Kerdruc, she is mistaken for the new chef at Ar Mor bistro. This is the turning point in Marianne’s story; and from this point we see her rediscover the joys in life, and help guide the people around her too.

The Review

Part of what really made the story for me were the descriptions of the landscape that flow throughout – George’s words paint a stunning image of the Breton coast, from sights, smells, to colours, and emotion.

As is her signature style, The Little Breton Bistro flows with an engaging and easy to follow storyline. A host of characters grace the pages, each of them contributing a different theme to the book; and contributing to Marianne’s transformation – we watch her turn from suffocated and timid to powerful and confident in herself. Her husband Lothar, by contrast, does exactly the opposite – although for the vast majority of the book he is only present in Marianne’s guilt; by the end of the story he has been stripped of the control he once had over her. This book is about love – new, enduring, unrequited – as well as birth, death and friendship. As her life changes from everything she once knew, Marianne arrives at a point where she must decide to hold on to the past; or embrace the future.

George’s writing style and stories always remind me of the film Amélie – colourful, full of life, with a sprinkle of the eccentric. French-ness. It is a winning combination.

I was surprised to learn that Nina George has written 26 books, as well as over 100 short stories – a quick Amazon search suggests that The Little Paris Bookshop and The Little Breton Bistro are the only ones to have made it across the continent to our bookshelves. Hopefully there are many more to come!

With thanks to Little, Brown Book Group UK for the ARC.

the little breton bistro