Delphine Woods is an author who loves to write historical mysteries and thrillers.
What I Was - Review
What’s it about?
Written by Meg Rosoff, this is an unusual coming-of-age story, which looks at gender and identity, the many faces and types of love, and the yearning to be something you are not.
Set a little in the future, the 100-year-old main character who we only know as H for a long time, reminisces about the time he first discovered love.
At sixteen years old, whilst at a boarding school which he hates, H meets a boy named Finn. Finn is everything H is not – good-looking, mysteriously quiet, agile, and all alone in the world. Living on an isolated slip of land with only a cat for company, Finn spends his days working at a local market, swimming, fishing, collecting driftwood, and following no rules. H, an upper-middle class boy ruled by society’s expectations, is immediately awed and enthralled by Finn, and jealous of Finn’s freedom.
The pair form an unlikely friendship, but in the end, their differences tear them apart, and scandal is never far away.
"A complex contract was in the process of being forged, whereby Finn agreed to tolerate my presence and I agreed to worship him – totally, but carefully, so as not to destroy the fragile equilibrium of his life."
"It was a lie in ways I already suspected, and ways I hadn’t yet imagined. But it made me happy, and even then I knew that happiness was something in which to plunge headlong, and damn the torpedoes. Our time together would have to end, I knew that, and knew also that the pain of leaving this place would be intolerable, like death."
This book had been on my shelf for years. Really, it is a YA book, and the blurb had always been so vague that I had put it down and opted for something else. But, after months of reading heavy historical research books and thrilling (sometimes emotionally exhausting) historical fiction, I fancied a change of pace.
And what a change of pace! This book moves languidly along, sweeping you into the world of the 1960s where life was a lot different to today. The class divides show clearly, the gender roles are subtly enforced, the lack of modern technology and the certain freedom that gives seems idyllic.
I was unsure whether this would be my kind of thing, but I loved it. I found Meg Rosoff’s writing enticing, humorous at times, and H came alive off the page. I could understand him and empathise with him, although he could certainly not be termed a nice character – in him, Rosoff highlights many human flaws, and the high, immature emotions one can feel as an adolescent. The beach hut was almost otherworldly, and the set up reminded me a little of old adventure stories – almost like passing through the wardrobe, only here H had to battle with the realities of life and love and growing up, rather than a white witch.
This could not be called thrilling. It could not be termed fast-paced. The end provided a twist I didn’t find shocking or horrific, but I found it satisfying and thought it suited the novel. It has a bittersweet ending, slightly on the depressing side, but again, it felt in-keeping with the story.
It seems this is a marmite book; you love it or you hate it. The reviews on Goodreads are very mixed. Some people couldn’t stand it, thought it boring, without a message, H was unlikable, too slow. Others, however, thought is fascinating and unique, achingly beautiful to read, and beguiling. I think you know whose opinions I sided with.
Who is it for?
Do not go near this novel if you are looking for any fast action, gore, or chills.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, something which immerses you in the world of old England, and where the writing delights you, then read this book. This is also a short novel and wonderfully easy to read.
From her website:
Meg Rosoff grew up in a suburb of Boston and moved to London in 1989. She spent fifteen years working in advertising before writing her first novel, How I Live Now, which has sold over one million copies in thirty-six territories. It won the Guardian Children’s Prize and the Printz Award in the US and was made into a film. Her subsequent six novels have been awarded or shortlisted for, among others, the Carnegie Medal and the National Book Award. Meg lives in London with her husband and two dogs.
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