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am 13. August 2016
I expected to love this book - after all, I'd seen the movie first and have to say: it really caught me off-guard. No, not because of the end (I'd been tipped-off by an interview with Emilia Clarke), but because it hit me so hard. I'm not normally into chick-flics, so it really came as a surprise. Admittedly, the months beforehand had been very tough. I don't want to go into details, but for over a year, nearly everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I was lonely, disappointed, disillusioned, and after having tried to dust myself off time and again, I started asking myself "what's the point?" It felt like my former fire and incredible ambition had been extinguished and I didn't want to try anything anymore, not even going out, if I could at all avoid it. I guess "Me before you" was the slap in the face that finally knocked me out of my bitter state of self-pity with some badly-needed perspective. Compared to Will, my fate is hardly terrible. Or, at the very least, I still have the option to turn things around, without relying on others for basically everything. And watching Louisa who is so full of life and her attempt at re-engaging Will's own zest for life through her calendar of adventures made me realize that actually, there still is a lot I want to do. After seeing the movie, I did feel a new respect for the preciousness of life and the fact that it can be turned upside-down in a matter of seconds. I decided to stop wasting my time and started getting back into the world, going on my own adventures and since the movie is a bit superficial, I thought I would have to go deeper and actually read the book.
You'd think that considering this, I'd have to give this book a five-star review. And I fully expected to do so.
**Few outright spoilers, but some are implied - read at your own risk**
After all, I mostly like Moyes' writing style and even though Louisa is a bit of a damsel in distress, I found her utterly charming. I read the book faster than most and it has certainly stuck with me longer than other recent reads. The setting is beautiful, many conversations feel realistic and I learned a lot about quads - both about the realities of the condition (which are even more awful than I'd previously thought) but also the possibilities. The calendar of adventures was still my favorite part, even though Louisa's attempts were riddled with unnecessary issues and we only get to see a handful of them (the rest is dealt with in a paragraph the equivalent of a movie montage). And as someone with a strong opinion on euthanasia, I think it's great that this book prompts people to consider their own stance on the issue and possibly engage in a public debate.
That said, there were issues I couldn't get over once the brilliant actors and emotional music weren't present to distract me.
For one, I really, really disliked the portrayal of Patrick a.k.a. "Running man". We're made to hate him and his running almost from the get-go and I couldn't help but think "why?!" I know that Lou and him are in a convenient relationship and certainly not right for each other, but I can't help but feel the constant scoffing about his triathlon endeavor feels like it was written by someone not very athletic for people who are not very athletic. For one thing, triathletes do not live on salad - these people need two to three times the calories that ordinary people eat and couldn't survive, let alone be competitive on the diet portrayed in this book. As much as I get him being a jerk, I also cannot understand why Patrick is made out to be the dull one. Unlike Louisa, who was in a dead-end job with no ambition and not a single hobby, Patrick is a self-made man with a hobby he adores and trains hard to become the best he can be. I'm an amateur runner with less talent in my whole body than Michael Phelps in his little finger, but I think that a lack of talent should never stop you from challenging yourself. There is no mention of how great it feels to be out in the elements, how you can sometimes feel like you're flying at the end of a run, how very alive it makes you feel to stand at the starting line of a race. Instead, it's implied that Patrick's efforts were for nothing because he didn't place highly enough in a race. Talk about someone not getting the point of exercise. I feel like Patrick was only there to create drama, the author really was not invested in him at all.
I also have to agree with another reviewer who asked, just how Will was all that different? Patrick is bossy, sometimes selfish and distant, but so is Will. In fact, it bothers me greatly that in 2016, the ideal of so many women still seems to be that of a rich, arrogant alpha male who will tell them how to live their lives. Thankfully, he is sometimes told off for being so incredibly patronizing, but it hardly changes his behavior. His biggest issue with being a quad is that everyone makes assumptions of him and his life, yet he believes to know everything better. It's not a very endearing quality, to be honest and he really is cold in the end. I'm not sure why anyone would consider this a great romance - she clearly loves him, but I very much doubt that he really loves her.
Louisa is still charming in the book, but I have to say, I did not like her backstory. I guess it was meant to add depth to her, but really: I have seen this plot used too many times. And if you're going with such an extreme trauma, then please do it with the seriousness it demands, not superficially like here. One does not get over something like this just because of a single line. (I was very much underwhelmed by the entire scene - I would have at least expected Will to curse those awful "men" and just generally have a stronger reaction). Her family drama was also quite tedious after a while; I just wanted to smack her awful sister and her annoying nephew. Louisa only learning to use the internet at the library for the first time was also unbelievable, even if she is a working class girl. And seriously, am I supposed to believe that a twenty-six-year-old has never even thought about what she wants from life? I can fully understand not knowing, but never even pondering the question? I'm getting as bored of the utterly unambitious female leads having no vision as I am of the alpha males who come to save them in so many popular books.
I also find it hard to believe that someone as wealthy as Will's parents would not have consulted professionals to install top-notch equipment for their son the second they learned of his injuries. It took Louisa to google a device that would allow him to use a computer? Really?
I very much disliked the random point-of-views - I really do not think that anything at all was gained by diverting from Lou's perspective, especially as we hear from secondary characters instead of Will.
The book's "message" in the end really isn't as deep as I'd wanted it to be either. "Just live". Yeah, sounds great on tumblr, but what does that even mean? Most of the adventures undertaken take a whole lot of money and of course, Louisa is left with a whole lot of cash. Her new-found vision of pursuing a degree is literally the first suggestion Will made and she just jumped on it,without ever considering whether she really has the talent to make this a viable career. In this regard, I find the first chapter (decided to quit afterwards) of "After You" quite telling - "living well" sounds so easy, but Moyes clearly struggled - as do most real-life people - with filling that phrase with a satisfying choice of action.
I guess that my main issue - and the reason that I didn't get nearly as emotional as I perhaps should have - is that I felt like the author was manipulating me. I find an interview (included on the kindle version of this book) very telling in this regard: Moyes fully acknowledges that her books are not meant to be read for high-quality dialogue but for tearjerking moments and she hopes to make readers cry. The problem with planning a story to get a reaction is that it can feel forced and unauthentic. Apart from the plot being highly predictable (as I said, one single interview comment explaining what the movie was about had made me realize in an instant how this story would end), there were very insincere moments and lines that simply didn't make any sense in the given context. I would have had no problem with either choice but having the character say one thing that is simply intended to be highlighted by many readers angers me when it clearly doesn't go with the same characters' actions.
Yes, I know, I am an overly analytical type. And I can understand why people love this book. It clearly made me think hard about a lot of things - I'm not sure if that's the problem or if it's a symptom of the book just not having enough emotional pull to make me shut off my brain and enjoy the story. Without the on-screen chemistry and emotional Ed Sheeran soundtrack, I found the book a lot less charming.