A whole year has whizzed by since I reviewed the six books on the 2011 Romantic Novel of the Year shortlist. But I vividly remember reading The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes for the first time and predicting in a flash that it would win. Her heartrending tale of passion, adultery and lost love was “everything a romantic novel should be,” I wrote in my review, and sure enough a couple of weeks later it was declared the winner.
Jojo’s new book is out this week and she’s done it all over again. By the time I got to the last few pages of Me Before You, I had tears streaming down my face and very smudged mascara. Not a good look, especially if you’re sitting on the train.
While lots of writers stick to familiar territory in their novels, Jojo surprises her readers every time. In the past she’s written about everything from brides travelling to meet their husbands after the Second World War (The Ship of Brides) to a businessman planning a controversial development in a sleepy Australian town (Silver Bay).
Her latest is the story of Will Traynor, a hotshot city financier whose life is shattered in a road accident. Quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair, he can’t do anything for himself and doesn’t see any point in life. He’s miserable, sarcastic and quick to take his frustration out on everyone around him, especially when his mother hires the sunny-natured, crazily-dressed Louisa Clark as his new carer. But surprisingly, the pair gradually form an unlikely friendship – a friendship that changes both their lives.
In less skilful hands, this novel could have been downbeat and utterly unconvincing. Jojo herself admits that given the “controversial subject matter” she wasn’t sure she’d find a publisher (actually, she was wrong – publishers were so keen that a raft of different companies bid for it.)
But in fact it’s an uplifting, wonderful read – a believable love story that makes you laugh, cry and think about a person’s right to live or die.
Me Before You is going to be one of the most-talked about books of the next few months. It’s been chosen as one of Richard & Judy Spring 2012 Book Club reads and many are already predicting that it could be as big as David Nicholls’ One Day. I reckon they could be right.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Michael Joseph, £7.99)