February 25, 2014

February - Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Last month I called this book a "departure" for us, understanding it to be a weepy love story. But with so many rave reviews, I thought it might be a good choice for a Valentine's Day read. It turns out Me Before You is all of those things: weepy (yes, tears were shed reading this book), a love story (though not at all a traditional love story), and a very good choice for a Valentine's Day read. Also a very good choice of a book club selection - there is so much to discuss in this book.

There were only three of us at the meeting this month but all of us had finished the book so we were able to really fully discuss it. If you have not read it yet, and have plans to, you may not want to read further as our discussion spent a lot of time on spoilers.

We were all impressed with Moyes' writing, particularly how well she developed her characters. The dynamics in both Louisa's and Will's families were very real and the contrast between the two families was well developed.
"The difference between growing up like me and growing up like Will was that he wore his sense of entitlement lightly. I think if you grow up as he had done, with wealthy parents, in a nice house, if you go to good schools and nice restaurants as a matter of course, you probably just have this sense that good things will fall into place, that your position in the world is naturally an elevated one."
We talked about the title of the book - what does it mean "me before you?" Is it about Lou wanting Will to stay alive for her? Is if Will wanting to do things his way regardless of what others feel? There was no clear cut answer to this one. We talked about the pain of being as in love with someone as Lou was with Will and finding that it is not enough, that you are not enough. Did Will's gift to Lou show that he loved her even though he had never told her so or was it just another way for him to continue to push her in the way he felt she should go?
"I told him I loved him," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. "And he just said it wasn't enough." Her eyes were wide and bleak. "How am I supposed to live with that?"
The majority of our discussion, though, focused on Will's choice to die and how the people around him reacted to it. Lou's mother's reaction, in particular, was interesting to us, both in the way she felt about Will's mother and her refusal to accept Lou's decision to be with Will. She had been something of a mousy character up to that point, so accepting of what life had thrown at her. We each wondered how we would feel if our child made the decision that Will made - would we be able to support him or her no matter how painful it was for us to let our child go?

We also talked about the legal ramifications of assisted suicide and how the complications of making it legal.

Both Ann and Linda had looked up Dignitas and discovered that it is a real facility in Switzerland that provides assisted deaths for terminally-ill people. In the book, Moyes makes the facility sound very lovely and peaceful but Linda and Ann discovered that questions have been raised about their methods and their disposal of remains. That makes the discussion much more complicated, doesn't it?

February 2, 2014

January - Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Our January selection was Omaha author Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park. This is a book that's stirred up some controversy and garnered a lot of praise. The controversy has largely had to do with Rowell's use of profanity which some of us did have a problem with, particularly early on. On the other hand, some of us felt it was entirely appropriate for the characters to use that kind of language or did not find it offensive or excessive. That is about the only fault any of us had with this book. Ann and Lisa couldn't put it down and raced through it while Linda was enjoying it so much she wanted it to last longer and intentionally made it last.

All of us loved this book - the characters, the writing, the way everything about it felt so real and believable. We talked a lot about what the three words referred to at the end of the book were and ***possible spoiler alert***why Eleanor didn't write back to Park after he took her to her uncle's house. Diana wondered if it were because of her own bad luck with men. Certainly she had never had a man should could rely on.

Knowing something about Rowell's background, we wondered if she drew a little bit on her own past in creating Eleanor. Some of us had read Rowell's earlier book Attachments which was very obviously set in Omaha, referring frequently to places that were landmarks in the city at the time the book was set. Eleanor and Park is also set in Omaha but we wondered why it was so much less obvious. Lisa wondered if it was intentionally done to make the book have the feel of this city but to also give it more of a feel of any city to appeal to a larger audience. Even though of us who have lived in the city for a number of years, and Ann who grew up here, couldn't place The Flats, the area of town that Eleanor and Park live in and tried to find hints in the book to help us place it.

Books that everyone loves don't always make good books for discussion. Eleanor and Park did!

Next month we'll be reading Jojo Moyes Me Before You. It's a bit of a departure for us, being a love story, but has received so much praise we'll read it for Valentine's Day. In March/April we'll really stretch ourselves by reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, largely thought to be one of the best books of 2013.