Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff

"Rosoff's story begins in modern day London, slightly in the future, and as its heroine has a 15-year-old Manhattanite called Daisy. She's picked up at the airport by Edmond, her English cousin, a boy in whose life she is destined to become intricately entwined. Daisy stays at her Aunt Penn's country farmhouse for the summer with Edmond and her other cousins. They spend some idyllic weeks together--often alone with Aunt Penn away traveling in Norway. Daisy's cousins seem to have an almost telepathic bond, and Daisy is mesmerized by Edmond and soon falls in love with him.
But their world changes forever when an unnamed aggressor invades England and begins a years-long occupation. Daisy and Edmond are separated when soldiers take over their home, and Daisy and Piper, her younger cousin, must travel to another place to work. Their experiences of occupation are never kind and Daisy's pain, living without Edmond, is tangible." product page

Reading this book is like drinking a tall glass of water as quickly as you can, in great huge gulps. That slight out of breathness that accompanies downing a drink is one go was with me for all of this after, after every few paragraphs I kept I feeling I had to stop and catch my breath.

It’s Rosoff's writing style that does it. You know how some YA books are, like, written in a style that’s very, like, you know, conversational and stuff? Well here Rosoff takes the idea of a conversational narrator then turns it up to eleven. It’s not stream of consciousness, it’s more like Daisy (the narrator) has come over to your house and it telling you about this one time when she went to England and discovered incest and war.

It’s incredibly effective. The voice of Daisy invades your head like the mysterious army that invades England in the book. Capitalisation and punctuation are treated like vague suggestions rather than rules, and this just makes her voice even louder. All caps, which normally I abhor in books (yes, I'm looking at your J.K.Rowling) are used to great effect, often changing the way a sentence reads and reinforcing Daisy's unique voice.

Even the beginning, which could almost be a modern version of the Secret Garden, wherein hip sms-ing, emailing, possibly but never outright confirmed anorexic Daisy comes to stay with her cousins in the English countryside. There’s this intense contrast between the pace of the writing and the dreamy, surrealness of the setting that I doubt most writers could pull off. And when everything starts to go hell with armies and rationing and brains smeared on the road I started to feel like I couldn’t read fast enough, like if I slowed down the sentences would get away and I wouldn’t be able to catch up.

The characters (because you know all I really care about are the characters) are well done indeed. Daisy is the classic outsider, new to both the country and to the tightly knit family she comes to stay with. Her inner voice is a little rambley and very opinionated but also familiar, and in comparison her cousins are these magical fey creatures who drift about like characters from a fairy tale. The way Rossoff treats all things British reminds me a little of the way Western culture treats Japan, it’s like some crazy kind of sideways Orientalism, where Daisy defines the British by their differences to America.

What stopped me from really loving this book was the ending. It felt a little like Rosoff was writing the book long hand and her pen had started to run out of ink and instead of getting up for a new one she just stopped writing. Not that the ending is truly bad, I suspect it will satisfy a lot of readers, it just left me a little cold.

How did this book end up in my hot little hands? I bought it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in love with this book it is my favourite book ever!!! I cannot wait until the movie comes out!!!