Saturday, 22 November 2008

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff

This is not a book I would have picked off the shelf whilst browsing, or if I had, it would have gone straight back. The blurb doesn’t do the story justice and the cover of the edition I have… well, there is a whole discussion to be had about cover design, but not here.

This is a work that lies on the borderlands of dystopian fiction. A teenage girl, staying with cousins in the UK, lives through a period of war and we follow how their relationships develop. The background details are deliberately vague, although I suspect most young teenagers would take a bit more interest than this unworldly bunch – especially as their mother is involved in peacekeeping efforts.

Rosoff has a pleasingly spare style, one that suits her narrator’s voice. And her narrator, thankfully, develops. I prefer my dystopias to be darker than this (although this is far from light). Plus, there seemed to be more here than was strictly necessary. The basic premiss of a group of children surviving the break down of society during war is enough to make a good story. I’m not sure the extra layers added anything to the story, but they are handled without fuss.

Where this book did excel is in the honest way it handles the relationships between the characters. It is hard enough and confusing enough experiencing love and loss, but conveying these emotions simply and without false sentimentality is much more difficult. The key, I believe is in the simplicity. There is no need to dress these up. Rosoff shows us what is happening and uses the device of a first person narrator to best effect.

Now, about that cover…