Me Before You
Jojo Moyes

Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Job 2:7 – 10

On Saturday, after a day spent packing boxes and painting over my daughter’s Sharpie doodles on the walls of my bedroom cupboard, I crashed out on the sofa and scrolled through the uninspiring offerings on Netflix.  I know, I thought, I’ll watch Me Before You, just to confirm how truly dreadful it is.  Even if the film is rubbish, I’ll have Sam Claflin’s gorgeous face to admire for a couple of hours.

I’m really not a chick flick or a chick lit person.  However, I have to say that I quite enjoyed the film, in a brain dead sort of way.  So much so, that I decided to read the book the next day.

I had seen a lot of controversy stirred up on Twitter about its apparent ‘ableism’ and wanted to see for myself, if the novel was really saying that it was better to be dead than quadriplegic.  My conclusion is that it wasn’t saying that at all.  It takes great pains to include the idea that there is a possibility of a different sort of life for someone with a spinal injury, even one that includes love or adventure, if that’s what the person wants.  However, life in a wheelchair, isn’t what the disabled character, Will Traynor, is prepared to endure, as it also comes with a great deal of pain, illness and a complete loss of control.

Anyway, that wasn’t what interested me about the novel. What I found incredible, was that Jojo Moyes had the nerve to examine the topic of euthanasia within the confines of the romantic comedy genre.  Is chick lit the place for such a weighty discussion?  I suppose that within a culture where most people’s opinions are formed by red top newspapers and the BBC, it will suffice.  In this novel, the two people who seem to have any moral objections to ‘assisted suicide’ are middle-aged mothers, who are also Christians.  The romantic lead, Louisa’s main objection, is that Will’s decision to end his life, is in effect saying that she is not enough.  Her love for him is not sufficient reason for him to want to live.

Which is fair enough, because she has all the emotional maturity of a fifteen-year-old.

I think that we are heading down the road of acceptance of euthanasia without any proper debate.  It is a creeping acceptance by degrees and before you know it, those who can afford to end their lives, at the time and in the manner of their choice, will no longer have to fly to Switzerland to do so.  I’m not really sure how I feel about this.  I worry that it is open to abuse and a recent case in The Netherlands, where a woman in her twenties was allowed ‘assisted suicide’ by her doctors because she had ‘incurable PTSD’, really caused me concern.

It seems to be taking the matter of death very lightly.  The idea that life is about fulfillment and happiness is a very modern falsehood.  Life is largely about suffering and how you deal with it.  If you’re not prepared for this fact, then of course you will want to check out as soon as the going gets tough.  Perhaps we should be arming ourselves with ways to deal with loss and grief and pain, rather than presenting death (painless, sterile, clinically induced death) as the easy option?

In Me Before You bereavement is an emotional event which can be alleviated by the panacea of inherited wealth and a nice trip to Paris.  In Me Before You, death really is a simple matter: one which can be arranged as easily as booking a holiday.