I’ve never read this author, and generally eschew anything with “romance” in the genre description, but I have to say I loved this book. It’s got everything I want from a novel: drama, tension, a compelling plot, and believable, likeable, complex characters. The audiobook version is nearly 14 hours long, so it’s far longer than a typical romance novel, but there are a lot of things that aren’t typical about this.
The basic plot is that Louisa Clark, an underskilled, unemployed 26-year-old waitress, gets a temporary job as a live-in caregiver for a quadriplegic named William. Will is young and potentially handsome, but has the cantankerous personality of the kind of person who trolls on reddit, that is, when he speaks at all. She doesn’t like him because he’s terribly nasty, but she needs the money, so she sticks around and (in classic “Beauty and the Beast” fashion) they eventually begin to like each other quite a bit.
William has some scars from a suicide attempt, and he has told his mother he wants to kill himself through assisted suicide. Louisa discovers this and realizes her real job role is to try to convince William otherwise. Being a busy bee, Louisa does research and organizes outings for Will, with varying degrees of success. Will also sees Louisa as his pet project, and tries to get her to expand her horizons and do things she thinks she won’t like. She thinks his life is still worth living despite his condition, and he thinks she is letting life pass her by.
One of the major themes of this novel is the choices that class gives (or doesn’t give) you. As with the original Beauty and the Beast, Beauty is poor and has few choices about what she does in her life because of the simple fact that there isn’t enough money. Will can’t move his body except for his head, but he’s got wealth and wealthy parents who can make things happen. Louisa knows that every choice she makes has repercussions to her family; if Louisa quits her job, her sister Trina might not be able to go to college because their dad can’t make ends meet. If Louisa’s father gets a new/solid job, it means that Louisa can move out of the house because they won’t need her salary to pay the rent and heat. Will, on the other hand, has that selfish individualism that richer people admire so much. Does he know that his father wants out of the marriage but can’t/won’t because of Will’s accident? No one mentions it, so perhaps he is too oblivious to know. What Will’s family wants or doesn’t want doesn’t seem to matter to him, and while Louisa is chided for quitting a job she hates (because it affects her family) and is coerced into un-quitting, Will isn’t as easily swayed.
One of Will’s greatest frustrations is being dependent on other people for everything, and yet, Louisa is also dependent on other people for so many things, except in her case it’s not a spinal injury, it’s lower earning potential and not enough money.
The novel also explores what it means to be handicapped. Louisa gets a wake-up call on how hostile the world is for the non able-bodied when she tries to take Will out to the racetrack. There are so many things he can’t do that are simple for many people. And yet, as Louisa finds out, there are so many things he can still do, with enough money.
I think that maybe Moyes wrote this when the debate over assisted suicide was hot in the news, but it’s passed now so it almost seems like “oh yeah, remember when that was all people were talking about?” Yet the question of assisted suicide fits perfectly with the question of independence versus interdependence. She seems to be asking “who does your life belong to?” The main argument against assisted suicide seems to boil down to that: your life doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to society, to you god, to your family. The main argument in favor of it is that it’s his life, he gets to choose what he does with it. The people who seem in favor of letting him do it are those who cherish their own independence. And one who is vehemently against it is one who has lived her whole adult life entirely in the service of others.
I unfortunately read a blurb of the sequel to this book, so I wasn’t surprised by the ending. But I was satisfied by it. It made me cry, but there was enough happy that the book earned the tears–it wasn’t maudlin for the sake of maudlin. And I loved the characters. I even loved the annoying ones. The only thing I didn’t love was when the guy who narrated William’s dad used a falsetto for a woman’s voice. If you ever narrate an audiobook, never do that. It’s horrible.