So there have been a few unexpectedly good things that have come about as a result of Me Before You, and one of them has been the messages from readers. Not just those who have been weeping on public transport (as someone who once sobbed their way through the last chapter of My Sister’s Keeper on the Stansted Express, I sympathise), or the non-readers who found themselves reading; but the carers, the relatives of quadriplegics and the quadriplegics themselves. (I include only emails here; the tweets deserve a post of their own).
I admit I had been nervous about the reception this book would get; the last thing I wanted to suggest was that the life of someone severely disabled was not worth living. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have been received this way.
Here, for example, is Sasha, from NZ: “I have been a tetraplegic carer for few years and its amazing how little people still know about how every day must be a strict, sickening routine. Or that the Able Bodies have no idea what it’s like not to have control, over anything. I really connected with this book and felt that I just had to thank you as soon as I read it.”
Or Sally, whose globe-trotting brother died of Multiple System Atrophy after a long struggle. Or Jean, the mother of an inspirational teenager who ended up in a wheelchair after a brain haemorrhage 4 years ago. “I identified with the problems encountered by wheelchair users and their carers…my son cannot speak so communication is difficult – but he went skiing at one of these indoor ski slopes-something I would never have envisaged him doing”
Kathryn: “I work on a ward in a hospital where a lot of our patients have the same or similar type of spinal injury. … It moved me on many pages and as a nurse I have dealt with all the emotions Will had, with my patients. Thanks for being brave enough to cover what people are scared of and for what, to some, is so very brave.”
I loved those who suggested the book had made them think, or even want, like Lou, to live bigger lives. I felt a bit like that while I was writing. But one of my favourites came from Bill, a hospital chaplain, who wrote me a long email that included the following extract: “Me Before You … affected my views on ethical issues such as assisted suicide. Whilst it is never our role to tell patients what to do with their lives, I thought that I personally had pretty deep-seated moral values before I read this book. Now I’m aware that these issues are not at all clear cut, and very much depend on the patient and situation.”
And Tony, a Canon who sent me this: “… it helped me clarify my own position in relation to the vexed subject of assisted dying. Of course, it is also a powerful and beautifully told, serious love story. (I stress the word ‘serious’ because I strongly object to the cheap term,’chick-lit’ which I can see right now out of the corner of my eye on the screen. It is such a condescending and utterly inappropriate term for a book of this nature.) So,I am deeply grateful to you for a book which will continue to resonate in my heart and soul for some time.”
In ten years of publication, I don’t think I have ever received a message quite like that. Still, lest I sound too pleased with myself, I thought I should include this, sent to me from two different addresses, just to make sure I got it (this is the edited version): “I hated your recent book. I believe maybe there is a little sadist and depressed being in you. Why did you allow Will to take so much from Louisa and at the end she didn’t get anything back.?… JoJo, I think you are just sad and you wrote an extension of yourself. In other cultures, people live for each other and they live as much fulfilled lives as those in the culture on which the book is based. YOUR BOOK WAS BAD.”
… which just goes to show you can’t please everyone.