Audible version, narrated by – a whole bunch of people.
This is a difficult one to review, and it’s impossible to give my reasons for the rating without spoiling the ending, so I’ll add a warning before I get to that point.
What I can say without spoiling anything:
This is the story of a young woman who has lost her way, and a man struck down in the prime of life and confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. More than a romance, it’s a story about choices and how we let events shape our lives, or how we choose not to.
The young woman is Louisa Clark. She is seemingly going through life on autopilot, working in a café, spending time with her boyfriend whom she doesn’t really seem to be terribly interested in, and doing nothing with her free time. There are reasons for this life, which are gradually revealed. Part of it is that she is sort of trapped. She is working to help support her family: parents, grandad, sister and nephew, whereof only two have a job, and her father may be about to lose his. So when Louisa loses her job due to the café closing down, she has to find new employment and fast. She ends up as the unlikely carer for the man in the wheelchair: Will Traynor.
As you would expect, they get off to a rocky start. Will is difficult and taciturn and Lou sort of blunders about and doesn’t really know what to do. But eventually a relationship develops between them. First friendship and later something more.
I like both the main characters and their dynamic, however none of the secondary characters are terribly interesting and end up mostly as window dressing, except for Lou’s sister Treena who is just downright annoying. There is to me nothing in the story that really redeems Treena. Sure, she listens to Lou on occasion and tries to help her, but mostly she’s just really selfish and self-involved. And I don’t know why. Because even the chapter told from her perspective later in the book doesn’t really do anything to explain why she is the way she is.
There are – I think – 5 chapters throughout the book in pivotal moments that are told from the perspective of one of the secondary characters. I thought it was an interesting idea, but while it didn’t ruin anything for me it also ultimately failed to add much, as you didn’t get enough insight into these characters from these snippets. It could have been utilised better. In the audio book version these chapters were also told by different narrators, which again didn’t ruin it but also didn’t add anything. It’s not that the narrators were bad, it was just unnecessary.
It’s a gripping and emotional story that deals with the big questions of life and death, the choices we make and what we let define us. It really was a good story and it made me think. I finished listening to it within 3 days which is unusual, as I normally only use audio books while exercising or on public transport, so it definitely hooked me. And I wouldn’t really have minded the ending under different circumstances, but….
I was pretty sure how it was going to end, as I have a vague recollection of reading a spoiler maybe a year or so ago, and then deciding I didn’t want to read the book. But, it has pretty good ratings and I figured I’d give it a shot even though I knew it would be sad.
The thing is that I can kind of get that life as a quadriplegic, with only slight movement of one hand as well as your head and neck, with all the aches and pains and medications that come with it, with having to be under constant care of someone and needing help with everything, may ultimately not be worth it. I can kind of understand that someone would make that choice. Especially if they were previously very independent, ambitious and physically active. Life becomes so much smaller, and maybe the occasional good can no longer outweigh the bad. Particularly when there is zero prospect of improvement, rather the opposite.
But I cannot really buy that Lou did not turn it around for Will, that she did not manage to change his mind. Supposedly he loves her too. And yet it’s not enough. He says he can see that they could have a very good life, and yet it’s not enough. He says that the last 6 months have been the best of his life too (this was the hardest one to swallow), and yet that’s also not enough? How can that not be enough?? He keeps harping on about how it’s his choice and the only choice he has been allowed to make since his accident (which is a bit of an exaggeration). I understand the importance of making your own choices and taking charge of your life and destiny. But he could also have made the choice to live. To be happy, with Lou. That would have been his choice too.
So, I understand that his prospects are not good, that he will probably only get worse, and that he wants to take charge of his life (or death, as the case may be) while he still can. I just don’t really understand why the life he has experienced with Louisa is not enough to deter him from this choice, to take happiness where he can find it, while he can, and to give happiness to the woman he loves. Maybe it’s just the eternal romantic in me, but it just doesn’t ring true.
I feel like the story could have been written differently, like maybe if they didn’t fall in love, or maybe if there was something more imminent looming on the horizon, it would have made more sense.
So, ultimately, thought-provoking, heart breaking, sweet and funny at times, but not all that believable.