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Anjuly Mathai
Anjuly Mathai

LOVE ACTUALLY

An affair to remember

emilia-clarke Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in Me Before You

Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You is a romance with a difference

The problem with most books tagged under ‘chick-lit’ is that they are all ‘chick’ and little ‘lit’. Plots are predictable: girl with an identity crisis meets boy who is handsome and, somehow, unattainable. Sparks fly and swords cross. Salacious dialogues follow leading to burgeoning sexual awareness of each other. Then some misunderstanding ensues—perhaps, the boy has a sexy office secretary whom the girl fancies him in love with. Finally, boy confesses love for girl and all is well in candy-floss land.

Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You manages to skip most of these pitfalls, mainly because the plot is so crafted that you are genuinely unsure whether, in the end, the girl will get the boy. Me Before You is a romance that sort of totters between comedy and tragedy which, for me, is the best kind.

The book tells the story of Lou, a peppy woman who gets fired from her job as a waitress and, consequently, takes up a position as caretaker to a quadriplegic. The quadriplegic, Will Traynor, a former high-level business executive, is good-looking, saucy and sarcastic—but also thoroughly disillusioned with life.

The best kind of books are those that get the emotions right. When the emotions are crafted in the right dimensions, dialogues fit into place and plots come alive. And that is Jojo Moyes’s biggest achievement: she knows her characters so well that she gets their emotions right. Rickety plot-holes are easily discerned by readers and the worst plight of a writer is when someone reads her book and says: “Hey there’s no way that would have happened.”

Moyes deals with weighty issues with a light touch. One example is the part where she gives an idea about the immense responsibility of taking care of a quadriplegic and then leavens it with humour. Here’s an example:

We tilted Will backwards. I took one handle and Nathan took the other and we dragged the chair towards the path. It was slow progress, not least because I had to keep stopping because my arms hurt and my pristine boots grew thick with dirt. When we finally made it to the pathway, Will’s blanket had half slipped off him and had somehow got caught in his wheels, leaving one corner torn and muddy.

“Don’t worry,” Will said dryly. “It’s only cashmere.”

The thing about Me Before You is that its charm doesn’t lie in the momentous, but rather in the mundane. I wasn’t shaken when Will says in his last letter to Lou not to think of him too often. “I don’t want you to get all maudlin,” he writes. “Just live well.” But I got all weepy when he refers to her wacko dressing sense and asks her to strut around in her ridiculous stripy bumble-bee pants with pride after he’s gone.

Moyes’s story confronts a dark truth. Only when life is skidding to a full stop do you notice its exclamation marks—facing the rock faces of California that are so tall your brain can’t quite process their scale; lying entangled in a woman’s arms, her hair fanned across your face; or standing in the Rue des Francs Bourgeois in Paris “cigarette in hand, clementine juice in a tall, cold glass in front of me, the smell of someone’s steak frites cooking, the sound of a moped in the distance”. 

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