Wednesday, 24 June 2009

What I Was


I wanted to say Jesus, Finn, didn't anyone ever talk to you? But I could imagine that no one had. People around her didn't wait waste words; language was a tool, not a treat. You didn't roll it around on your tongue, revel in it.
I sighed. And yet ... how was it that Finn's silences turned my words into dust? No matter how heartfelt my thoughts, the noises I made when I was with him took on the quality of monkeys jabbering in trees. While his silence had the power to shatter glass.

Above is a passage from What I Was by Meg Rosoff that I sampled yesterday in my teaser but that I wanted to quote in its entirety. In my opinion it demonstrates Rosoff's talent for her writing and her love for language and what often isn't said. What I Was is ultimately a novel about what isn't said, what isn't seen, and what we often want to say but don't.

I read Meg Rosoff's debut Young Adult novel How I Live Now a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely so when I read Nymeth's review last week of What I Was, I requested it from the library and put it to the top of the TMBTLT (too many books too little time - a term stolen from Verity) pile.

I am struck by its resonance and power. It has a twist and one unfortunately that I saw coming (keen eyes and a overactive mind) that changes one's perspective post-reading. It is a book of longing and loneliness and love. I admire how Meg Rosoff addresses her [target] young audience as grown-ups and tackles adult themes that are essentially teenage themes too. I didn't once feel as if I was reading a patronisingly twee book for children or that I was reading "beneath" my own reading abilities; instead I was engaged in an intensely poignant tale for young and old.

I highly recommend this book. It is about the friendship and love between Hilary (the 100 year old narrator who is recalling his youth in the early 1960s) and Finn, the friend he makes when he goes to board at St Oswald's and discovers the hut on the beach where Finn lives alone. Hilary admires Finn and wants to become Finn, or the constructed image that Hilary has in his mind of Finn. The novel is about falling in love with somebody without knowing fully who they are, and whether consequently you are in love with the person or with your perception of the person. Finn represents freedom to Hilary but it is a freedom at a cost.

As a complete aside: I enjoy reading about characters named Finn, as my mum goes by the name Fin and we once had an Irish Setter named Finn (previous owners -friends- were looking for an Irish name and opted for my mum's shortened version.)

7 comments:

claire said...

I added this to my wishlist after reading Nymeth's review. This is only the second time I've heard of this author. Anyway, just wanted to ask if you've read Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt. Her name is Finn. :)

farmlanebooks said...

I have this one and How I Live Now my in the TBR pile, but I haven't read any of her books yet. I'll get round to reading them one day!

verity said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure you know about Just in case, but I looked on Amazon and she has another one coming out in Sept called The bride's farewell.

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, it's definitely worthy of your wishlist! Also thanks for the Finn tip; I have seen the film (many years ago) but not read the book. My mum's actual name is Finola, which is harder to come across, especially with that spelling.

Also, do you know offhand of any books that feature a great character with our name?

Jackie, there's just too many books, aren't there?!

Verity, I am looking out for Just in Case - have you read it? I also have The Bride's Farewell on my wishlist. I enjoyed How I Live Now but it didn't make me desperate to read any of her other work (to be fair, none was published back then) but this one does.

verity said...

I have read Just in case, but I don't remember very much about it. I agree with How I live now - it was very much hyped, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't feel it was anything special.

Nymeth said...

That's so cool that you actually saw it coming! I don't think I ever would have, and I worry about what that says about my assumptions :P Anyway, I'm happy to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did. I can't wait for her new one.

Paperback Reader said...

I'm definitely looking forward to her next one although still to read Just in Case.

I think I was consciously looking for clues and picked up on them more easily.