Me before You by Jojo Moyes: What Will’s suicide is really saying

A gripping, well-written, fast-moving read; with good, interesting characters; giving a lot of food for thought. Although I get the impression that she’s read about the ‘right to die’ controversy and has simply decided that it would make a neat plot device.

The novel is about Louise’s experiences as she becomes a carer for a paralysed man. Will, the man she has to care for, is handsome, clever, rich, irritable, bad-tempered, and, in Louise’s words, ‘a bit of an arse’. Predictably, as she gets to know him more, he softens and she starts to fall in love with him. Then she discovers that he is planning to kill himself in six months. From that point on there are only two possible endings to the story, so there isn’t any room for any twists in the plot or surprises.

After I’d read it, I started thinking a bit more deeply about the story. It has the ‘elephant in the room’ syndrome. Will is planning to kill himself and yet no-one – not even his mother who is a Christian – raises the huge question about what happens to him after death. A significant omission. I can’t believe that someone would not raise this issue. Is this the ultimate taboo? Death and sex are now acceptable subjects, spirituality is accepted as long as it is not religious, but no-one should discuss what might happen to Will after he dies. If he ‘meets his maker’ what will his maker think of him?

I also struggled with the presentation of Will’s decision to go to Dignitas – to, effectively, kill himself. In the story, his decision is shown with great sympathy, as the hard choice made by someone in a terrible position. As a logical, right and moral decision. As a sad decision, but one that he makes with full justification.
The trouble is that Will is utterly selfish. Before his accident he is a having a great life: sexy girlfriend, earning huge amounts of money in the city, having wonderful adventurous holidays. It is the impossibility of returning to his great life, as well as the loss of control and, admittedly, an uncomfortable, sometimes pain-filled life, which is the rationale behind his suicide. But he is incredibly rich: rich enough to have a specially-modified annex, to pay for two full-time carers, and to have a five-star luxury holiday in Mauritius with both his carers. He can, if he wishes, still live a reasonably productive, purposeful and love-filled life. His real issue is that he lacks generosity and sympathy. It never occurs to him to help others in the same situation as himself, to consider what he can do with his time and money, to look away from his own painful paralysis.
He rejects life, the chance to help others, and love. His mother, his father, his sister and Louise love him deeply and are given huge pain by his decision. His suicide is effectively saying to them, “I do not love you enough, and your love for me is inadequate.”

I am not saying that people in incredible pain, paralysed, with no hope of recovery, are always wrong to kill themselves, or seek help from others to do so. But in this particular book, with this particular character, I consider Will to have been wrong in his decision, and that the author has in fact given a one-sided and shallow view of a hugely complex issue.

me before you

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