[Image description: Cover of “Me Before You”; movie tie-in edition. It features Lou sitting in Will’s lap.]
As the prologue of the book is so short (in my edition it’s not even four pages) I decided I would use this first post to also introduce myself and my motivations for this analysis.
First, I am physically disabled and neurodivergent. When I was still in highschool I was diagnosed with clinical depression and had suicide idealization. I was eventually stabilized though I still had anxiety and I also developed a proclivity for sleep paralysis and auditory hallucinations in my mid-twenties. Recently I’ve gone back into counseling for depression with the stress of my chronic illness.
My physical disability started when about fifteen months ago with a simple backache. I have desiccated disc disease and I am being investigated for Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia. My right leg is perpetually numb and I have terrible, terrible chronic back pain. I also have balance issues, general malaise, and chronic exhaustion. Because of all of the above I use a wheelchair and cane to get around.
In short I am somewhat similar to Will, the male lead in “Me Before You”. I’m not quadriplegic and for now I can perform all my basic care by myself. Nevertheless I do use a wheelchair and I have had suicide idealization. I also know very well what it feels like to have your will ground down by ableism and an inaccessible world.
Because I don’t believe disability depresses people, but trying to survive in a world not made for you certainly does.
I am in a disable/able marriage. My partner isn’t disabled and we were married when I was disabled. Again, a parallel with the book. Because society loves to fetishize this kind of relationship for whatever reason. (We’ll get into the whole ethical issue of Lou being Will’s caretaker when we get to that bridge.)
I am also an author. Sort of. My work hasn’t been professionally published and I’ve only written one book. Nevertheless I’ve done what Jojo Moyes has so I do have some insight into the creative process of crafting a novel, and a story at all.
As such I am somewhat straddling a line between peer and critic with Ms. Moyes. As an author I understand there is no way Moyes could make adjustments to “Me Before You” at this point and many professional authors believe reading reviews is “amateur”. In some way I agree with this idea because as author you have no control over how someone will interpret your work and in many ways your intent doesn’t matter. So why torture yourself with something you have no control over?
Nevertheless there are also good and bad ways to respond to criticism. The bad way however is to falsely misrepresent that you have been in contact with activists prior to when you said you were. Ms. Moyes like to pretend she was shocked by there being protestors at her movie premier when in reality disability rights activist Dominick Evans had been in contact with her at least five months prior.
You can claim she just forgot but as the conversation was so long and detailed, I doubt it.
This is when the gloves came off for me. To this point I could understand a lack of response due to handlers, but here Ms. Moyes actively misrepresents the truth. And I can’t overlook that in the greater context this is an able author and her publisher making money off the backs of the disabled. I wanted to reserve my judgement until I had actually read the book but the above is a little too much for me to ignore. The dismissal of the concerns of the disabled community smacks too much to me of deep-seated ableism and I am highly doubtful such a person could craft a sympathetic portrait.
So, here we are. This is going to be a journey about ableism, mental health, and the “right” to die debate. I will try to warn for triggers but this is going to be a no-holds barred dissection of ableism in publishing, media, and society.
“But why this book?” you may ask. It’s this year’s highly visible ableist work. A few years ago it was “The Theory of Everything” and this summer it’s “Me Before You”. As others have already pointed “Me Before You” wouldn’t be such a problematic work if the ideas within it were not so mainstream. (See: The Amanda Lauren xojane fiasco and how hate crimes against the disabled rose 41% last year in the UK.) Though Moyes, the director, and the actors all seem to want to pretend they’re doing something ground-breaking and important, and they’re not really. “Million Dollar Baby” and a thousand other films have done what they have. All they’re doing is reinforcing the status quo.
In short, the work is an easy target.
Like the disabled community is, apparently. *ba dum tish*
And PSA: Able people if you come on here telling me you know more about writing than me though you’re not a writer, and you know more about disability than I do though you’re not disabled, you’re going to find yourself blocked. I have no time for that bullshit.
So with all of that out of the way let’s get to this measly prologue.
Which only exists to highlight the “tragedy” of Will being injured by showing his previous able life before we ever meet him as a disabled person. He has some random woman named “Lissa” rolling around on his bed. As he dresses for work he thinks about how they fucked the night before.
Then Lissa says a line I can never imagine an adult woman saying to another adult.
“Mr. Blackberry makes me feel like Ms. Gooseberry.”
[Image description: A male-presenting person tilting his head with the subtitle “wait, what?” on the gif]
I swear to god I thought this person was Lou at first because she also complains at the thought of wearing fleece. Lou seems to be a manic pixie girl in reverse and so does this chick. I guess Will has a type.
Anyway, not!Lou (As we already know Lissa is going to drop Will like a hot potato once he’s injured because that’s the response anyone have to a partner being disabled unless they’re saintly) is pouting about the vacation they’re going to take and really it’s a pointless scene as we already know this will go nowhere. All it does is setup previously Will was a stud so it’s even more awful when he’s disabled.
Also Will does business and extreme sports because he’s a “master of the universe” according to the back cover. When did “master of the universe” stop being a title solely for He-Man?
[Image description: Gif of He-Man turning his head to a beat with a rainbow and sparkle background, the next scene is a full body shot of him dancing]
Will is apparently injured when he steps off the sidewalk to cross the street in a rainstorm to catch a cab. Some car blindsides him and that’s where the “prologue” ends.
What a waste of time. A common thread of advice for story-craft is “start as close to the end as you can”. Surely the circumstances of Will’s injury would have eventually been mentioned in the story. There was no need to introduce us to Lissa here even if she does eventually play a part in the story as again there would have surely been room in the main text for it.
And why is it important anyway to see Will when he was able? What bearing does this have on the story? It can only be because he was a “master of the universe” before he was disabled that his circumstances are especially tragic and to add more justification to his suicide.
Moyes never contemplates that a disabled person can be a “master of the universe” in their own way with enough accommodations and adjustment time. This is her ableism showing. This is her preconceived notion.
And no playing the “I have disabled friends/relations!” card doesn’t disqualify you from ableism (Which I’ve seen both Moyes and the director play). You are still able, your reality is not my reality. If you were disabled I doubt you would go out of your way to romanticize a previous able existence, much less force a reader to compare a person’s previous able life to their disabled life. A disabled person knows that doesn’t factor in to their current quality of life.
Four pages in and I already want to scream into a pillow. We’re off to a good start.