“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” – Will Traynor
This was one occasion where I had seen the movie first before reading the book, thanks to a movie recommendation from a good friend last year when I was going through a rough patch. So while I knew what was coming when I opened the book and turned each page, I still found myself reaching for the box of tissues. This is a story that knows exactly how to pull your heartstrings and when to draw on your emotions.
To those who think that its “just another love story”, then you could not be farther from the truth. There is so much more to this carefully crafted narrative than meets the eye. There are layers to peel back. Yes, there is a budding romance – like a rose bud, it takes time to grow and nurture and blossom. But there’s also deeper elements to the story, such as learning to step out of your comfort zone, dealing with life and its curve-balls, making difficult choices, learning who you are and remembering to chase your dreams, finding strength within yourself and seeing all of the possibilities and potential in your futures. This book will make you laugh, cry, sigh, cheer, wonder, imagine, empathise, weep and will have you up until midnight having an emotional endurance test. Be prepared to embark on a roller coaster of emotions as it navigates the many twists and turns of life and the importance of choices.
“Life boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live.”
WARNING: The following passages contain spoilers for those who have not read the novel.
Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark is “an ordinary girl living an ordinary life”, or so she tells herself. Will Traynor doesn’t agree. He believes Lou has a future of endless possibilities and potential, if she would only just broaden her horizons and think of life outside of their small tiny town. Will is a recently paralysed man who has given his family 6 months before he wants to die with dignity. Lou is hired after she loses her job from the cafe that closes down, her role to be his carer and work on convincing Will that he still has a life worth living. Lou has her work cut out for her as Will is a determined man and has his mind firmly made up on what he wants. He knows he doesn’t want the life he has now, compared to the life he once lived. Lou starts taking Will out on trips and outings in her attempt to change his mind about his life expectancy, with not all going to plan – need I mention the trip to the races? However I also suspect that Will agreed to go on some of these trips for his own intents and purposes: to show Lou that there is so much out there for her to experience and enjoy. My particular favourite demonstration of this is the concert recital. Lou has never been to a classical concert, she has convinced herself that “she’s not that sort of person”. Will doesn’t want to go to the concert but tells Lou she should go, however she says she doesn’t want to go alone. Will challenges this and says he’ll go with her if it means she’ll actually attend. Will and Lou attend the concert and Lou’s eyes are opened to the power and magic of classical music:
“I hadn’t realised that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.”
Throughout this entire chapter, you feel as though you are in the room with Lou and Will, that you are sitting behind them and savouring the delightful notes played by the orchestra.
“They began to tune up, and suddenly the auditorium was filled with a single sound – the most alive, three-dimensional thing I had ever heard. It made the hairs on my skin stand up, my breath catch in my throat… I felt the music like a physical thing; it didn’t just sit in my ears, it flowed through me, around me, made my senses vibrate. It made my skin prickle and my palms dampen…It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.”
Lou takes the job as Will’s carer purely for financial purposes as her family struggle for money. It’s only a 6 month job, she tells herself. But little does she, nor Will, know that life is never going to be the same. Things will change in ways neither could imagine or anticipate.
‘I have become a whole new person because of you.’ – Lou Clark to Will Traynor
Throughout the book, there is an underlying current about a “mistake” that Lou is letting to define her life and her lifestyle choices. A mistake that she hasn’t told anyone and has kept pent-up inside her. Now, the book does not go into detail, there is no shock value and no, the author has not set out to horrify readers. Instead, JoJo Moyes leaves you with enough snippets and story to paint the picture of what happened. Those readers, like myself, who connect the dots will heartbreakingly realise Lou was sexually assaulted and/or potentially worse (she can’t remember at least half an hour of the assault and that this haunts her immensely. Lou, along with us readers, are left to fill in the gap with our own conclusions) in the castle maze by a gang of drunken men that she’d been drinking with prior to being lured into the maze. Personally, I hope that it was only assault and humiliation, as the alternative is much much worse, although it’s horrible either way. The author has made this sub-plot realistic rather than dramatic and we as the readers, along with Louisa, are left not knowing what exactly happened. Just like real victims, many go unknowing of the truth of their traumatic incident that shapes the rest of their lives. It shaped Lou into being a girl who wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible, cancelling her adventures to Australia and staying home where she could be “safe” but having fun with her quirky wardrobe.
Lou blames herself for what happened to her that night in the maze. She tells nobody and never returns to the maze after that night. At least, not until Will pushes her in to doing the maze with him on one of their outings, unknowing of the reasons behind Lou’s unwillingness to go in. He probably thought she was just being childish. As Lou is in the maze, readers start to get glimpses into what happened, and I’ll admit it made me feel sick to the stomach whilst feeling the fear in Lou, the terror, the hatred, the disgust and the distraught cries. Will hears Lou in distress and you can feel the relief as he realises something is dreadfully wrong and helps Lou out of the maze, away from the traumatic memories. It is through his gentle coaxing, support, and opening up to Lou about his innermost fears, that Lou opens up and tells him the story, and how she blames herself. I found Will’s response so very powerful and moving:
“Some mistakes… just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let the result of one mistake be the thing that defines you. You, Clark, have the choice not to let that happen.”
Some critics have questioned the need for this sub-plot to the novel. Some say its too dark to be included in the book, others say it has no relevance or bearing to the main storyline. I would beg to disagree. Whilst I don’t like the idea of ANY woman (or man) being assaulted – physically or sexually – this sub-plot does have bearing on the main storyline. It explains Lou’s reluctance to do things outside of her comfort zone, why she dresses the way she does, why she has convinced herself that she isn’t someone who can lead an exciting life. As Lou says herself in the book:
“I had worked out who I was, and it was someone very different from the giggling girl who got drunk with strangers. It was someone who wore nothing that could be construed as suggestive. Clothes that would not appeal to the kind of men who went to the Red Lion, anyway.”
The incident changed her, changed the way she dressed, the way she acted around men, the way she carried out her life, but at the same time is not central to her personality. In my opinion this has a bearing on the main storyline, as it made things a bit clearer in the book, compared to the movie. It also brings Lou and Will closer together as companions. Will opened up to Lou and told her his innermost fears that he has told nobody before which in turn helped Lou to open up to tell him her story that she had told nobody before. Will also treats Lou so much better after he learns of her trauma, knowing what she had been through. Thus developing another petal on their budding relationship.
As much as I loved the movie adaptation, I love the book more. Below are just a handful of differences that I’ve picked up on:
- You really get to see the relationship between Will and Lou grow and evolve in the novel, with Will slowly letting Lou in, piece by piece. In the movie, it feels rushed
- Patrick doesn’t seem as self-centred in the movie compared to how he behaves in the book! Like OH MY GOSH!!! Patrick irked me in the movie, but I REALLY wanted to punch him in the book!
- Then there’s the case of Will’s sister, Georgina who lives in Australia and tells things as she sees them, she was the one who told Lou in the book about Will wishing to end his life. However Georgina didn’t appear in the movie – she must have landed on that infamous cutting floor…
- And then there is Stephen Traynor’s affair with the red-headed woman that Lou saw him with in the street – that was cut from the movie too. However I can admit that it really didn’t have that much bearing to the storyline other than Will using the info to “influence” his father to hire Lou’s father at the castle.
- Then there’s Lou’s sexual assault – they had filmed this but apparently couldn’t make it work so it ended up on the cutting floor. This would explain the one burning question I had when I watched the movie “Why was Lou stuck in a rut in her life, not moving forward?” The book answered that question for me.
- The relationship between Lou and Patrick is varied. In the novel, the relationship feels a lot more serious with Lou moving in with Patrick, which makes the breakup that much bigger, compared to the on-screen relationship breakup.
- And speaking of the selfish, insecure, spiteful Patrick: the movie also cut the story where Patrick informs the press about Will’s plans to end his life and how Lou is involved. I really would have LOVED to have seen Lou yelling down the phone line at him!
- There’s also no big mention in the movie about Lou’s online chatroom discussions with other quads and carers. Sure, it wasn’t entirely pertinent to the storyline but it would’ve helped show Lou’s resourcefulness during her planning of Will’s trips.
- Or what about the matching tattoos??? In the novel, Will and Lou get matching tattoos. Another detail that landed on the movie’s cutting floor.
“‘I always quite fancied a tattoo,’ I said. I should have known afterwards that you couldn’t just say stuff like that in Will’s presence. He didn’t do small talk, or shooting the breeze. He immediately wanted to know why I hadn’t had one.”
My verdict: I feel that this is a book that I will definitely want (and need) to re-read again in the future. It is a book that will challenge you, as the reader, to reflect on the values we place on our lives, and that we should be living our lives to the full, because who knows? Just one day you might be struck by a motorbike right outside your home, turning your life upside down forever. So get out there while you can, and live the best life possible.
The Humming Librarian Score: 5 / 5
I’ve now got the sequel novel, After You, on my To Read pile next…
~ The Humming Librarian ~