A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{August 14, 2012}   What I Was by Meg Rosoff

Plot: An old man looks back on his adolescence in the 60s and the friendship that changed his life. When he was sent to St. Oswald’s, one more in a string of dismal boarding schools, he expected more of the same: boredom, mediocrity and loneliness. But there he met Finn, a mysterious boy living alone in a hut on an island off the coast of England. He insinuates himself into Finn’s life until they become unlikely friends.

Rosoff’s novel is a unique meditation on adolescence and friendship. Her language is beautiful and evocative: I kept wanting to underline sentences. The narrator has some very interesting insights on his life (though he is ultimately shown to be quite naive). But if you are looking for something fast-paced and action-heavy, this isn’t the novel for you.

What I Was is, as the title suggests, a character study and it is ultimately all about the narrator. The other characters serve as mirrors into his psyche. Finn, as the narrator sees him, is the masculine ideal (free and self-sufficient) that he aspires to become whereas Reese is the needy, Gollum-like figure he fears that he actually is. We see hints of the characters’ true selves but the narrator’s adolescent self is too self-absorbed to notice. This self-absorption is what makes the climax of the book believable.

The narrator isn’t always likable: he clearly doesn’t like himself, which colours the way he is portrayed, and he is selfish in his relationships with others. The friendship at the center of the novel is really all about himself and the image of Finn that he makes up in his head. But Finn is fascinating and, like the narrator, I really wanted to know more about him.

Though the book has a great climax, well delivered, I found the ending a bit meandering and unsatisfying… very much like endings in real life can be. However, real life isn’t necessarily what I’m looking for in my fiction. I would have liked a bit more closure. But this doesn’t affect the beautiful writing and the fascinating character study.

2012 (#83)

Title: What I Was

Author: Meg Rosoff (http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/)

Publisher: Viking

Year: 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-01844-4


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