Writers Readers

Writers Readers: Me Before You – book vs. movie

Writers Readers is a series which reminds writers about one of the most important sources of writing education – other writers’ books. Every edition of Writers Readers brings you books I loved (or hated), with reviews you can actually learn from, and tips about how to become the writer you want to be, through reading.

I have noticed this trend in my cultural life recently, where I see some very hyped movie which was based on a book, and only after enjoying it do I open my Amazon app and order the actual book. Which, I guess, is doing it sort of the wrong way round.

That was the case for me with The Hunger Games, Divergent, and now Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I knew it was a big movie, I’m pretty sure a friend also recommended it to me at some point, but I only watched it a few weeks ago, lured by Sam Claflin’s irresistible smile (and the fact that I loved him in The Hunger Games movies).

So I watched the movie, and to say I cried would be an understatement. Let this tweet be proof.

I was inconsolable.

Alright. This was a crappy introduction. You might be sitting there thinking ‘What the hell is she talking about, I’ve never heard about this movie, or the book. Why wouldn’t she just introduce it at the beginning, like a normal human being?’.

Apologies.

Me Before You is a 2012 novel written by Jojo Moyes, where Louisa Clark, a girl in her mid-twenties who doesn’t really know where her life is going, loses her job and finds herself a carer for Will Traynor. Will, in a way, is the opposite of Lou. He loves extreme sports, is well educated, talented, amazing at his job. Except he can’t do any of the things he enjoys anymore, because a motorbike accident left him a quadriplegic – he only has limited use of one of his hands, and that’s about it. He’s chained to a wheelchair, dependent on other people. So when Louisa starts working for him, she doesn’t exactly get the warmest of welcomes from Will. But, over time, their relationship gradually grows warmer.

But there is something that’s about to happen in Will’s life, and Lou becomes determined to prevent it. 

A slightly more polished description of the book can be found here.

Camilla Traynor: We are talking about complete loss of the legs and very limited use of the arms and the hands. Would that bother you?

Lou Clark: Not as much as it bothers him.

As I’ve said already, the story of Will and Louisa has moved me to the bone. It’s one of those that stay with you and make you think things you don’t necessarily want to be considering, about yourself and your loved ones.

But my plan for today is not to tell you how many tears I shed, but to consider the differences in how the book and the movie tell the story, and which one I enjoyed more.

 The movie 

The movie stars Emillia Clarke as Lou, and Sam Claflin as Will. And, having read the book, I can tell you that those castings are amazing. As a Downton Abbey fan, I was also very excited to see Brendan Coyle as Lou’s father (he plays Bates in Downton), as well as Matthew Lewis as Patrick (best known for playing Neville Longbottom, and doing growing up right. I mean, have you seen his chest?).

It is most definitely a great movie. Having not read the book prior to watching it, I still found it very easy to warm up to the characters and get so engaged in their story that its ending left me a soppy mess. It is funny at times, and heartbreaking at others. The dialogues were great and sounded like stuff normal people actually say, and the pictures beautiful. If you haven’t seen the movie, I definitely recommend it.

Some people say that Lou can be annoying, but I didn’t find her to be so. She’s the sort of lost, not really sure what to do with her life girl, who got stuck in the only life she knows, the one she grew up into, and not consciously chose. It’s easy to sympathise with her, to be honest.

Lou Clark: Every time I speak, he looks at me like I’m stupid.

Katrina “Treena” Clark: To be fair, you *are* pretty stupid.

Lou Clark: Yeah, but he doesn’t know that yet.

Will, on the other hand, is a man who lived the life he chose for himself, the life he always wanted to live, and then it was taken away from him in a blink of an eye. Is he angry? Yes. Is he mean? Most definitely, at the beginning. But I can totally understand him. It’s easy to say that you need to accept your life as it is, that life always has value. Yet I kept on thinking that, if this had happened to me, and I could no longer feed or dress myself, or write, or go to Zumba, when I would constantly get ill, and knew I’d never have sex again, I’m not sure I would find meaning in life myself.

Lou Clark: What do you usually do?

Will Traynor: I don’t do anything Miss Clarke. I sit and just about exist.

The story is said in a very real, not over-sweetened, but also not over-dramatised way, and kudos for that to the cast and filmmakers.

I loved the movie, as you can tell, so roughly 10 minutes after tweeting about the fountain of tears I had shed, I ordered the book from amazon.

The book 

51Tu6lcaGbL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_-2
Image source: amazon.co.uk

When I first started reading the book, I was struck by how similar it was to the movie. A lot of dialogue was pretty much word for word. A quick look at IMDb later I discovered that Jojo Moyes had written the script, probably explaining why the movie is so true to the novel.

And I loved that.

Because you know that moment, when you loved some book, and then go to watch the movie, and you discover that they cut out something that you absolutely adored (a.k.a. why is there not enough Dobby in the Harry Potter movies?!)? I think we all do. In this case, those moment are few and far between.

The book is definitely hard to put down, I read more than half of it on the plane to and from Portugal. It’s the type of book you get lost in. Which is also the best type of book, really.

My only problem?

I didn’t cry.

I know. It’s a weird problem to have, because who on earth enjoys crying? I for sure don’t. But after the movie caused a fountain of tears, I expected the book to hit me even harder. To squeeze all the tears out of me. I was actually weary of getting to the end of the book, because I was expecting it to crush me. When I finally decided to sit down and finish it, I had a box of Mansize Kleenex and a cup of tea by my size.

And then I shed maybe 5 tears.

I honestly wish I knew why. Maybe it’s because I already new what was going to happen and have emotionally dealt with it. Or maybe it’s because the movie was just so good. Either way, I will probably read the book again. Because it’s damn great.

(Interestingly enough, though, I have decided against reading the sequel, After You. I just feel like the story ended at the right time, and I don’t want it spoiled.)

The important bit: movie vs. book 

Ok, so you know I enjoyed them both, there is no doubt about that. But which one told the story better?

Emotions wise: To me (though I might be in the minority) the movie was a much more emotional affair. Although the book kept me gripped and wanting more, the movie struck a cord.

Story wise: The book, hands down. Although it’s the same story, it sort of makes a bit more sense in the book. It’s not that much the case with Will, whose story is told rather fully in the movie, but Louisa is definitely a richer character in the book. And I’m a sucker for well written characters (and dialogues – I’m pretty sure my novel has more dialogue than description ;)).

Why this judgement? I’ll bullet point it so it’s nice and neat:

  • The movie actually made me cry. No need to elaborate on that, I must have mentioned it about 50 times already.
  • The book didn’t only tell the story from Lou’s perspective: although majority of the book is written from Lou’s POV, there are chapters here and there that are written from other characters’ perspective. This adds a bit more depth to the story, and allows for better understanding. I’d say it’s an interesting choice of narration, definitely something to consider if you’re using a first person narration, but want to make sure your story isn’t one sided.
  • Lou’s back story. In the movie, Lou hardly has a back story. We know she’s been with Patrick for ages, she comes from a working-class family, she’s into fashion. That’s about it. Hence why a lot of viewers might find Lou annoying – it just sort of doesn’t make sense that an energetic, sharp girl like her would be stuck in that city without perspectives.
    But in the book, Lou is much better explained, and her choices suddenly make all the sense in the world. She took (and kept) the job despite Will being an absolute jerk to her because her sister, who wanted to go back to university, begged her to. And she stayed in her hometown because of the assault she fell the victim of some years before. When I read that bit of the book, I was actually quite angry about it not being included, because it just made Lou make so much more sense, showed how vulnerable she really was. Her life decision suddenly felt understandable. That omission was explained by Jojo, and you can read about it here.
  •  In the movie, Will’s parents don’t have issues with each other. One of the more interesting sub-plots of the book was the Traynors’ troubled marriage, and how they were tied to each other by Will’s disability. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed reading about it, because who the hell enjoys reading about marriages falling apart, but that was definitely something that showed what effect disability can have on the whole family – in this case not letting the parents get a divorce they so desperately needed. In the movie, however, they seem like a normal enough couple who supports each other in this difficult situation.
    On topic of family, in the book, Will has a sister, who doesn’t appear on screen. This change, however, I quite understand, as she was a very minor character.
  • Lou’s research on quadriplegia. In the movie, there’s virtually no mention of it. But in the book, Lou joins a chatroom for quadriplegics and their carers, where she asks for advice and chats to people who are in the same situation as Will. Me Before You had caused quite some uproar in the disabled community, with people really annoyed that disabled people keep on getting presented in movies as not having a life worth living, with suicide being the only option. I understand why one would get that feeling from the movie. However, in the book it’s a completely different story. Lou chats with a lot of people who are quadriplegic and living good lives. But they also respect that Will might view this differently than they do. Lou also gets the very much needed support from them, something which she lacks in the movie.

I think Me Before You is an interesting case of transferring a movie to the screen. On one hand, probably thanks to Jojo’s involvement, the movie is very true to the book. On the other, not everything made it to the screen. To me, this sends a clear message, which is also highlighted by Jojo, that not everything that works on paper will work on the screen, even when the author is involved. That changes need to be made for the movie to still be an enjoyable affair, rather than just a cinematic portrayal of the book.

 

Cover photo source: themovieblog.com

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