Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats
Thursday, September 23, 2010
"What I Was" by Meg Rosoff
I had vaguely heard about this book but didn't pay much attention until I saw it during my most recent foray into Books-A-Million. It has such a pretty cover! And it was on sale for $3.97, so I picked it up and read on the back about H and Finn and was reminded that I'd kind of heard of this book before.
The blurb phrase "this whole novel is built on a surprise" sold me on it, though if that hadn't, the next one claiming this was "a richly patterned work about secrets" would have worked on me just as well. And now, since it fits the shorty requirement of my Anna Karenina Recovery Program, I've given it a go.
So, a bit about the book, since I failed completely in conveying a sense of what my previous read entailed (beyond a faint mention of smoking, drinking, drugs and NOT hard-core porn). H is an English boarding-school student in the 1960s who comes across "a beautiful boy named Finn." Though a teenager like H, Finn lives alone in a ramshackle hut on the beach which can only be accessed during low tide. H develops what can only be called a crush on Finn, which borders on the obsessive. The two spend time together whenever H can sneak off from school; H is driven to see Finn, and Finn seems to passively tolerate H's visits.
It's always nice to be surprised by a book, and this one does not go in the direction I was expecting (which is more than likely the direction you are thinking right now, too). Even though very early on in the book H makes it clear that he "didn't long to see [Finn] in that way. It wasn't even that I longed to see him so much as to be him . . . " I think I didn't quite really believe that. Although I did begin to entertain suspicions of The Talented Mr. Ripley sort (which proved wrong, also).
One thing that impressed me about this book was Rosoff's ability to show me Finn through H's eyes. I understood the obsession, and I keenly felt his desire to break through the shell keeping Finn aloof, to somehow make Finn aware of him, to be deserving of that awareness. Likewise, I was blinded to the same facts about Finn that were hidden from H.
I don't know how much of this is based on the fact that the book was not 800 pages long, or the fact that I spent less than four dollars on it (and very likely less than four hours, too, though I didn't count), but I really thought this book was excellent. In fact, I had a difficult time deciding to post it on paperbackswap. If this was a harcover copy maybe I wouldn't have. But I finally convinced myself that I can swap it for something that may turn out to be just as excellent.
I've never read anything else by Meg Rosoff, but she has also written How I Live Now and Just in Case, among others.