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Jojo Moyes
Me Before You
Pamela Dorman Books / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-670-02660-9
Publication Date:01-16-2013
380 Pages; $27.95

Date Reviewed: 01-16-2013

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  General Fiction

We call it chemistry because people, like chemicals, change one another when they meet. It's an inevitable law of nature. While this is easy to observe, and often enjoyable, conveying this experience in a thoroughly and universally engaging manner is quite difficult. Novels that address our most difficult and intractable problems must face those same problems, and offer more than life. We can experience joy, love, and tragedy without coming to any particular conclusion, or even a resolution. Life lets us slog from one day to the next. Novels, on the other hand, must have a beginning, middle and end.

With 'Me Before You', Jojo Moyes takes on the difficult task of providing a very satisfactory beginning, middle and end to a very human chemical reaction. We meet Will Traynor, a successful financier from an upper-class family, and Louisa Clark a not-so-successful newly-unemployed young woman from a family where her income matters greatly. They meet as well, and as the novel unfolds, Moyes offers readers a particularly engaging voice, in Louisa, who tells most of the story in the first person. With Will Traynor in the mix, Moyes crafts a plot of character that is utterly compelling. 'Me Before You' is charming, gripping and eventually, it is authentically poignant.

It would be terrifically easy to spell out the particulars, but it is best for readers to pick up the book knowing as little as possible. If you're lucky enough to know only of the book's existence and its quality, try to keep it that way. I'd go so far as to suggest that readers avoid the dust jacket copy, even though it does not give away many of the surprises that follow.

'Me Before You' benefits from superb, transparent prose with enough of an edge to give matters grit, to bring the characters to life with all their flaws intact. Moyes writes most of the book in the first-person voice of Lou. When we meet Lou, she feels as if she knows the world and all its ways, but she does not. As the novel proceeds, she grows and becomes deeper, more interesting, more nuanced. But Moyes simply shows this happening to Louisa even though she does not particularly notice it happening to herself. As she tells most of the story, her language becomes subtly richer. Moyes does not confine herself to Louisa's perceptions, though. At key times, we also see the world through other characters' eyes, and each perspective adds a layer of depth to the world that Moyes creates.

Readers will find a wisely and grippingly plotted novel. Moyes starts strong and induces a real tension to proceedings by refusing to compromise her characters. The result is that the characters feel more realistic and seem more pragmatic than might otherwise be the case, and more importantly, readers will really want to see where they end up. It's certainly not obvious, and Moyes' research into the background of the subject she deals with here pays off handsomely. She treats important topics with the intelligence and delicacy that lets her show them to be important, so that her characters can react to them without having to step into a sidebar lecture to the reader. 'Me Before You' is a surprisingly effective page-turner.

Jojo Moyes demonstrates here not just the power of prose and plotting, but the import of the human relationship, clearly portrayed. Louisa, Will, and all the characters you meet in 'Me Before You' will fall into place together because Moyes knows the chemistry that drives the human heart. It's a complex mixture. Nothing is simple. Nothing is stable. Put two people together and they will change one another; even, perhaps especially, if one if a writer, the other a reader and means by which you put them together, a book.

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