After Meg Rosoff's much-loved
How I Live Now defied its YA category
and made its way onto adult shelves to much
critical acclaim, What I Was is her
first novel to be packaged as an adult book.
The story is simple but compelling: a
16-year-old boarding school boy happens upon
the mysterious young Finn who lives alone in
a shack by the sea. The protagonist becomes
utterly obsessed with Finn, wants to be
him so badly that it reads like love that
rare and singular kind of platonic
first-love that exhibits more as self-love,
as the desire to be the object rather
than possess it. Coming-of-age is Rosoff's
territory, but too much of this one doesn't
ring true. The extreme tenderness and depth
of H's observations and sentiments don't
jive with his clueless, careless and typical
- if somewhat more sensitive -
16-year-old-boyishness. Historical details
that are surely meant to add dimension read
as mostly irrelevant and out-of-place in
this brief piece, and the dramatic climax
and twist crashes in and sweeps up too
quickly to be anything more than shocking
The treat of the book is Rosoffs beautiful and mythically charged setting. Her lush prose paints the craggy rocks and crashing sea surrounding Finns fairy-tale-like shack and the bone-aching chill of the damp winds with unforgettable detail. However, her stellar prose makes the book all the more disappointing, as it sets the reader up to expect greatness through-and-through. While the three star rating indicates "average", Rosoff's talents are anything but, so if you're a newcomer, start with How I Live Now to experience the full breadth of her fiction.
About the Author
Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, in 1956, the second of four sisters, grew up in the Boston suburbs, went to "ordinary suburban schools" and then to Harvard. After three years of thinking Ive got to get out of here, she packed a bag and got on a plane for London where she applied and was accepted to art college to study sculpture. She says that art school was a disaster, "I was obviously a writer not a sculptor, but I didnt know that then .... but the rest of the year was a revelation. There was an unbelievable amount of fun to be had in London in 1977-78. Im still reeling."
Eventually she returned to the US and finished her degree, then moved to New York City where she spent ten years working in publishing and advertising before quitting her job to return to London, where she still is. She lives in Highbury, north London, is married to an an English painter and has a daughter, Gloria. She says that she was inspired to write a book after her youngest sister died of breast cancer at the age of 39 leaving behind two little boys, and she thought if "I was going to write a book, Id better do it soon because life is short." Her middle sister has also had breast cancer and then it was Meg's turn - at the moment How I Live Now came out she was diagnosed with cancer. She recollects the flowers at the hospital on the day of publication and the cards with their congratulations and commiseration messages. She says, "It was freaky. I felt: this puts everything into perspective."
She followed How I Live Now with Just In Case and is working on a fourth novel, The Bride's Farewell, which will be published in the UK in September '09 and the US in August '09.
This review was originally published in January 2008, and has been updated for the January 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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