Me Before You and Dying Young
This post contained spoilers for Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Dying Young by Marti Leimbach. Don’t read this post if you haven’t read these books and think you may want to read them in the future. Though read on if both books don’t sound like your cup of tea since this is really about how close is too close when it comes to shared plotlines.
But consider yourself warned about the spoilers.
Okay, so I just read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I didn’t just read it; I devoured it. It has been a long time since I’ve raced through a book like this, sneaking pages into every available second of the day. I really really really loved it. I loved her writing style. I loved the characters. I loved Louisa and Will’s relationship. I don’t know why I put off reading this book for so long.
But here is the thing: I already read this plotline back in 1990. As in, this exact plotline, down to the twist at the end. It was in a book called Dying Young by Marti Leimbach.
The book, Dying Young, is nothing like the film version with Julia Roberts. It’s really a gorgeous book that I think a lot of people didn’t read because the film was so maudlin. The book is about a lower middle class woman (like Louisa) who is hired by the family of an upper class man (like Will) who has cancer (instead of a spinal cord injury). He has decided to stop treatments and wants her help in ending his life. Plucky, slightly-awkward Hilary wrangles with arrogant, impatient Victor. He is constantly trying to change her, to make her become the sparkling diamond he sees in the rough stone. He wants her to see the world and do something amazing with her life, and she learns how to live by loving someone who is dying.
Does this sound familiar?
Fine, I could write off all the similarities up until this point. It’s not as if these are the only Pygmalion-drenched lower class girl/upper class boy books. It’s not as if there haven’t been other books that detail a caregiver relationship that doesn’t deliver the happy ending.
But there are other similarities that take us into a very grey zone.
Both books have tough-as-nail elderly birds who know how to handle the prickly young men. In Dying Young, it’s the bit character of Estelle. In Me Before You, it’s Mary Rawlinson. In both books, there is another man, another outside romantic relationship. In Dying Young, it’s Gordon. In Me Before You, it’s Patrick. In both books there is a parental figure who just doesn’t get it. In Dying Young, it’s his father. In Me Before You, it’s his mother. In both cases, the main woman (Hilary/Louisa) is reporting to that clueless parent behind the man’s (Victor/Will) back.
Both books have women trying to change the mind of the man under their care. And both books use applying for school as the way both women leave the men they love so they can get on with the dying. And in both cases, at the very very end, you realize the men are not going to change their minds and will go through with their plan to end their life even though there has been a hiccup beforehand that makes you think you’re going to get a different ending. Both books even include a hedge maze which holds emotional significance. Seriously, it’s down to dual hedge mazes.
Both books are lovely, and I enjoyed both in their own right. Both books do justice to the notion that there is nothing romantic about dying young. Both books leave the reader gutted, wishing for just a few more minutes, hours, days.
So my first question is how close is too close? Is this a form of plagiarism? It sort of feels like it. If it’s not, what is it? It’s certainly not homage.
I felt wrong devouring Me Before You, as if I was doing a disservice to Marti Leimbach. And perhaps Marti has read Me Before You and doesn’t see what I see and isn’t bothered by the similarities. But if she did notice, aren’t I hurting the first author (Marti) by enjoying the book by the second author (Jojo)?
Could it all be a coincidence? Yes. Though Leimbach’s novel was fairly big in the early 90s and turned into a movie with Julia Roberts while she was in her Pretty Woman heyday. I’d be surprised if Moyes never heard of it. And I don’t know how you’d accidentally have the hedge maze appear in both related books.