Fans of Me Before You, one of our Best Books of January, might be satisfied to learn that they are not the only ones who went through boxes of tissues while reading the novel. Many of us reviewers did, too, of course, but you might be interested to know that the weeper-in-chief on this one was the author Jojo Moyes herself. "I've found that if I don't cry when I'm writing, I'm not going to get the same emotional response from a reader," she says. Clearly, she needn't have worried this time: to judge from its standing on our bestseller list (#159 at last look), and our customer reviews, there is a pretty good tears-to-customer ratio.
Me Before You is the story of a young woman who takes a job as an assistant to a paraplegic. Louisa Clark is young, working class, and a bit directionless in terms of her life goals. She's smart, and she's funny, but she really doesn't think beyond the limits of her neighborhood. Will Traynor, on the other hand, is a guy who had it all"”love, money, adventure"”until this "master of the universe" was mowed down by a motorbike on a London street. What could these two people have in common and how could they possibly get along? That's the question that intrigued Moyes, who says the story was inspired by three real-life events: a news story about a rugby player who was paralyzed playing the game, two relatives who needed constant care to perform the simplest personal tasks, and Moyes' youngest child, a boy who was born deaf. "I was less interested in the specifics of the disabilities that Will had," Moyes says, "than in looking beyond the disability to the person.... With my son [who has now received a cochlear implant and can hear almost normally], I found that other people's attitudes toward his disability were almost tougher than the disability itself. The way that people suddenly treated us was profoundly shocking to me. Anybody who has had something catastrophic in their life can come to stop seeing the disability and see behind to the person"”but if you haven't had that experience, you probably can't." Me Before You was a way to spread the word.
But make no mistake: Moyes' ninth novel (this is the first to be published in the US) is no treatise on disability. No, it's part love story"”though there are no traditional "love scenes." It's part analysis of the right-to-die issue (think Jodi Picoult). And it's part inspirational tale of seizing-the-day.
Sitting in her publisher's office in a chic tweed jacket just purchased, she confides, at the Saks Fifth Avenue post-holiday sale, Moyes appears to have little in common with the fearful-if-feisty, vintage-clad Louisa who is taught by Will to think big and take chances. And yet, Moyes says she is"”or used to be, anyway"”a bit like her. The daughter of an educated, middle class family, Moyes was on her way to marrying a local mechanic at 17. "I was all set to lead a very particular small kind of life," she tells me. Miraculously, she got picked from her low level job at a bank to go to Oxford to take a management training course. "There, I met all these incredible people who had actually done stuff." After a few weeks of work and study her fiancÃ© arrived to drive her home. "I'd been up all night working and suddenly, I felt sick. I can't go back, I thought." And she broke her engagement to the bloke on the ride home.
Even today, happily married to her second husband, a journalist, Moyes still doesn't take "luck" for granted. It was only a few years ago, after all, that she thought her career was just about over; her longtime publisher in England seemed uninterested in her newest work, and she was disheartened. "I remember I said to my husband, 'I don't know if I'm going to have a career in writing anymore,' and we began talking about what else I might do. And then one day I was on a bus in London and I looked to my left and there was a mounted policewoman. And I thought: "I could be a mounted policewoman.'"
And then two seconds later:
"'I could write a really interesting book about being a mounted policewoman.' That's when I realized that I translated everything into being a writer. The truth is, I can't do anything else. So, even if nobody buys my books, I'm still going to write them. That's the beauty of the Internet, I'll just put them out there."
With tissues, of course.