Julie: Let's start with a quick question: What was the first thought you had when you finished reading Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW? First thought about the book itself, that is.
Marirosa Mia: That my first impressions were totally off. I'd been a bit worried that the language the author uses and the...I can't think of a better word here...simplicity of the storytelling would leave me feeling empty, but I was wrong. I was touched by this novel, and I think the writing style rings a lot truer than that of other novels exploring a similar topic.
J: And I thought, How could it be that this novel has been out for six years and I'm only now reading it? This is exactly the kind of book I like to keep close by as I write, in the hopes that some of its magic will somehow seep into my pages. How did I miss it for so long? And *how* does Rosoff accomplish so very much with so relatively few words?
Let me pause for a second to summarize the story. Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from her New York home by her widower father and her newly pregnant, “diabolical” stepmother to live in England with unfamiliar cousins. She falls in love with one of those cousins, Edmond, just as England goes to war with an unnamed enemy. (The book is set sometime in a near, unspecified future.) Daisy is ultimately separated from Edmond, and they each do their best to survive and reunite.
That summary doesn’t begin to do the book justice, in part because it captures none of the novel’s wryness and intense atmosphere and unusual tone. At any rate, the story is terrific. Though I liked Daisy so much, it almost didn’t matter what story she was telling. I just wanted to hear what she had to say. Did you feel the same way?
M: To tell you the truth, not in the beginning. I wasn't sure Daisy was up to the task of telling this story, and for a bit there I was worried. Good thing I stuck with it, because she proved me wrong! I think it all started with her relationship with Edmond; something about how she described something so raw and tender won me over as a reader.
Now I've added all of Rosoff's books to my library queue. I can't wait!
J: Daisy's voice won me over. In my view it's pitch-perfect, from the first page to the last. I keep opening the book now to random pages, and each one is full of characteristic sentences that I love. Take, for example, this paragraph about her mom, who died giving birth to Daisy:
"I sometimes wish someone would just fill me in on the simple boring things like did she have big feet or wear makeup and what was her favorite song and did she like dogs or have a nice voice and what books did she read etc. I made up my mind to ask Aunt Penn some of these questions when she came back from Oslo but I guess what you really want to know are the things you can't ask like Did she have eyes like yours and When you pushed my hair back was that what it feels like to have your mother do it and Did her hands look serious and quiet like yours and Did she ever have a chance to look at me with a complicated expression like the one on your face, and by the way Was she scared to die."
There’s tremendous emotional resonance packed in that one paragraph, and many others like it. I'm guessing the density of those paragraphs, and the sentence structure, could prove tedious for some readers. But it's a relatively short book, and I flew through it happily.
One thing about the book did trouble me. It has nothing to do with the story or the writing, though. On the front cover, just above the title, the publisher displays a quote from Mark Haddon (author of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME) that reads, simply, "Magical and utterly faultless." This suggests that Haddon found the book as a whole magical and perfect. But Haddon's full quote, printed far less prominently on the inside cover, actually states, "That rare, rare thing, a first novel with a sustained, magical and utterly faultless voice. I knew she could persuade me to believe anything." It is one thing to call Daisy's voice faultless (a statement I agree with); it is another entirely to deem the *book* faultless. I guess that kind of sneakiness with quotes happens all the time, but I still hate it!
I'll stop ranting now. Anything to add, dear Mia?
M: Nope, haha. I think you said it all, Julie! Oh, wait! This is probably a silly comment, but I was convinced that Meg Rosoff was actually British as I read the novel. There was something about the language of the narration and the way the words flowed. I just had to look her up! It turns out that although Rosoff spent much of her early life in the US, she’s lived in London since the 1980s. Maybe that’s why Daisy didn’t “feel” American to me; she felt British--which could be the reason it took me a while to trust her. Eventually I forgot this as I continued to read, but I suspect it’s what tripped me up in the beginning.