This novel was a recent pick for my neighborhood book club. While we always have wonderful discussions (A shout out here to the ladies in the club – you all have your own special brand of awesome!), this book in particular led to some pretty heated discussion. It was heated, but not contentious, although there was a clear line with our group members falling quite distinctly to one side or the other. We all have our own predilections, but I was having trouble discerning the pattern between the person and the opinion in this conversation and it set me thinking.
Before I go any further on this, let me back up and give a short spoiler-free synopsis of the book. On the surface, Me Before You is a maudlin, Nicholas Sparksy-type love story between a paraplegic and his caregiver. As the Ronco infomercial goes, though: “But wait, there’s more!”
What the book is truly about is the right to die and the complexities of assisted suicide. On one side is Will Traynor, a suffering paraplegic who wants to exit with dignity. Opposed to this plan are, of course, his friends and family, but in particular his caregiver Louisa, who has fallen in love with Will and hopes to show him reasons for living. Moyes does a very sensitive and thorough job of fully exploring all the participant’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives in this story.
In our group’s debate, no one disputed the right to choose one’s own destiny, rather it revolved around whether or not we agreed with the validity of the choice of suicide to end debilitating illness, particularly in a person as young as Will. As I said before, the conversation was lively but respectful and very intriguing. After a fair bit of post discussion thought I finally realized that although all of us had had experience with severe illness, those that could most easily sanction the choice of suicide had been those who had experienced illness themselves, while the rest of us had been primarily in the role of caregivers.
Herein lays the true value of this book. It is a conduit for a dialog between the seriously ill and their families and caregivers, so that the caregivers might truly be able to understand the pain and debilitation of the patient, and that the patient might respect the crucial role of supporters as a steady and reliable holdfast of hope.