Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How I Live Now
Meg Rosoff

It's not your typical beach read. It's better. There's all sorts of taboo, broken rules, and heartbreak, not to mention great writing in How I Live Now.

I discovered the book after Meg Rosoff won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (which she received last night in Stockholm). She has written more recent work, but this is the one that catapulted her to recognition, and a host of awards. It does not disappoint.

Basic Premise: Daisy (from NYC) is sent to live with her mother's sister and family in England. Her father is remarried and he and his new wife are awaiting their first child. Daisy and the stepmonster do not get along. She is also suffering from anorexia. I'm guessing the idea is that by sending her away she may get her life together (we had this very experience with an exchange student, but that's another, harrowing story). Instead, war breaks out and Daisy and her cousins are caught up in the middle of it, with all of war's tragedies, from starvation to random murders, death due to lack of medication, and slaughter.

In the midst of the death and destruction, Daisy falls in love with her cousin, Edmond, and vice versa. Yet, they are separated by the war and spend the rest of the book finding their way back to each other. It's Lolita light, i.e. illicit, taboo love affair, in this case between blood relatives, that's however mutually consensual. I didn't want to root for the star-crossed lovers (but I did).

The craft aspect of the book that has me mulling is one I've come across before but can't quite figure out. It's the inclusion of dialogue within the body of the text without separating out with quotations. Example: "...when I notice everyone's gone except this kid who comes up to me and says You must be Daisy. And when I look relieved he does too and says I'm Edmond."

Is this tool used to make the text read more from the perspective of a teenager who ignores punctuation and "proper" grammar in informal writing/texting?

The effect the tool has on me every time is to leave me feeling simultaneously more inside and apart from the story. I never can quite get my footing. I also stumble across the passages that are dialogue more often and have to re-read once I realize it is a conversation, not internal dialogue in the protagonist's head. Again, perhaps that emphasizes the way life feels to a normal teen, jumbled and coming at them every which way but straight on.

I'm all for rewriting the rules of grammar. I honestly haven't figured out, though, how to use this rewrite to my advantage since I can't seem to read it properly, or decipher how it is supposed to alter the reading experience. This one has me baffled, and it's the third or fourth time I've come across the tool and been left wondering.

So there you have it, a  great read AND a craft riddle for your summer reading pleasure. Some of you may have already figured out the answer. If yes, please share! I'm eager to unravel and understand this writing conundrum/tool.

For more great summer adventures, skip over to Barrie Summy's website and snag a bundle.


Ellen Booraem said...

I've seen this technique before--even in my own writers group! It's sort of elegant and once you get used to it I think it works. It makes the narration more intimate, somehow--like stream of consciousness but not (thank god). This sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the tip!

Sarah Laurence said...

I love how your review focuses more on unconventional grammar than on illicit love or the horrors of dystopia. I read this book and years ago, and it still haunts me. It was shocking and disturbing but also emotionally resonant. I'm not sure it needed incest, smoking or odd grammar but I got the sense that this author enjoys controversy. Fine review!

Barrie said...

I read this book 8 years ago and absolutely loved it. In fact, I think I've now read all this author's books. Anyway, I don't remember the grammar issue. But eight years is a long time... Did you know the author was in hospital for cancer when this books was released? I wrote a review for What I Was in 2008: And last year, I wrote a review for Picture Me Gone : So, I guess you could say Meg Rosoff is one of my favorite authors. :) Thank you for reviewing!