As a boy suffering the constrictions and loneliness of boarding school in East Anglia, the young narrator idolizes Finn and spends as much time at his beachside hut as possible, hoping to become self-reliant and free. But the contrast between their lives becomes evermore painful, until one day the tables turn and everything our hero believes to be true explodes - with dire consequences.
©2007 Meg Rosoff; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Rosoff's unconventional coming-of-age tale is elegantly crafted....[and] portrays how we often become who we need to be." (Publishers Weekly)
As long as I have my Audible, I'm content.
I chose this book based on the narration by Ralph Cosham and was pleased to find the story as enchanting as the voice telling it. He's my favorite narrator for stories like Wind in the Willows and Watership Down, and this story has that same magical feeling of being transported to a different time and place, but with human characters instead of animals. I almost always listen to books on 1.5 speed, but this one, I savored every minute.
Don't let the shortness of the tale put you off. This is a little gem. I don't know which captured me more, the landscape of the cottage, or the friendship. I think at least part of the appeal is that yearning every child has to live on his/her own without adults....
Say something about yourself!
This is an elegant, almost dreamlike novel that confirms my high estimation of Meg Rosoff (first inspired by my appreciation of How I Live Now). Rosoff's prose is deceptively simple, and the reader may feel hard pressed to explain what actually happens in the story, and yet the novel is packed with multi-layered ideas and compelling emotion.
The official description begins like this: "Toward the end of his life, H looks back on the relationship that has shaped and obsessed him for nearly a century. It began many years earlier at St. Oswald's, a dismal boarding school on the coast of England, where the young H came face-to-face with an almost unbearably beautiful boy living by himself at the edge of the sea."
The novel unfolds as H recounts how he escaped the suffocating tyranny of mediocrity at his boarding school by stalking the lone Finn and insinuating himself into Finn's life until a kind of understanding, if not traditional friendship, blossomed between them.
I was reminded somewhat of A Separate Peace by John Knowles at the beginning of the tale, but in the end What I Was surprised me, and I found I liked Rosoff's take even better than Knowles's.
Rosoff, like life, refuses to wrap things up tidily with a bow at the end. I would've been disappointed if she had.
I suspect this will be haunting me for some time (as How I Live Now continues to do).
Ralph Cosham, as always, delivers an excellent narration.
Here's an indicative passage:
"I studied Finn the way another boy might have studied history, determined to memorize his vocabulary, his movements, his clothes, what he said, what he did, what he thought. What ideas circulated in his head when he looked distracted? What did he dream about?
"But most of all what I wanted was to see myself through his eyes, to define myself in relation to him, to sift out what was interesting in me (what he must have liked, however insignificant) and distill it into a purer, bolder, more compelling version of myself.
"The truth is, for that brief period of my life I failed to exist if Finn wasn't looking at me. And so I copied him, strove to exist the way he existed: to stretch, languid and graceful when tired, to move swiftly and with determination when not, to speak rarely and with force, to smile in a way that rewarded the world."
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