One of my Creative Writing students last year produced an extract from this book, then talked about it during one of our lessons – and I immediately came home and bought it. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t read it. It then became buried – I think at one stage I even thought I had read it… until Himself brought home the sequel. And I realised that I needed to give myself a treat and tuck into this one.
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
I knew the main plotpoints in the initial quarter of the book, but what I hadn’t bargained on, was the humour. This novel that deals with a range of hefty subjects – the constant grind of low-level poverty when trying to survive in a depressed area, of which there are far too many in Britain… Will’s despair at having had his choices ripped away from him… sexual violence that goes unacknowledged, never mind unpunished… It could so easily have been a worthy, if depressing, read. However, all the way through I found myself laughing aloud.
Lou, the main protagonist, is a delight. She is quirky with a runaway mouth and a skewed sense of humour who manages to jolt Will out of his sarcastic, dark fury. Yes – there is a love story at the heart of it, but this book is so much more. It is a close examination of one of the most difficult moral questions of our time. Given the level of medical care, we can now keep people alive who would have died several decades ago with complications such as pneumonia and a series of nasty infections. But their quality of life can be dire. Do we allow them to make the decision to die? There are a host of problems around that step, such that most countries, including Britain, have refused to legalise euthanasia. But Switzerland has… Can Lou persuade Will not to take that step?
This book is a roller-coaster, as we follow Lou’s attempts to rekindle Will’s love of life. It could so easily have descended into a syrupy mess of sentimentality – and Moyes managed to completely side-step that bear pit. I picked this book up – and found I couldn’t put it down. I should have been doing a whole host of chores, but couldn’t tear myself away from this life-and-death struggle, leavened with a raft of hilarious incidents. The ending was a triumph. If you haven’t yet read this one, do so – there is a solid reason why it has become a worldwide best-seller and is one of my favourite reads of the year so far.