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What I Was [Paperback]

Meg Rosoff
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
Price: 5.59 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

14 May 2008

Meg Rosoff, multi award winning author of How I Live Now, explores the pain of first love and coming-of-age in her compelling novel What I Was, which was once described by The Times as 'Samuel Beckett on ecstasy.'

Shall I tell you about the year I discovered love?

I'd been kicked out of two boarding schools and the last thing I wanted was to be here, on the East Anglian coast, in a third.

But without St Oswald's, I would not have discovered the fisherman's hut with its roaring fire, its striped blankets, its sea monster stew.

Without St Oswald's, I would not have met the boy with the beautiful eyes, the flickering half-smile, and no past.

Without St Oswald's I would not have met Finn.

And without Finn, there would be no story.

Shall we begin?

' . . . thrilling and sensitively told' - Observer

' . . . mordantly funny and searingly well written' - The Times

Bestselling author Meg Rosoff has received great critical acclaim since the publication of her first novel How I Live Now (winner of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize). Her other novels, Just in Case (winner of the 2007 Carnegie Medal) and The Bride's Farewell, are also available from Puffin. Follow Meg on Twitter @megrosoff.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (14 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141322462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141322469
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praise for What I Was: 'Already a classic' -- Sunday Times 'Mesmerizing' - Daily Telegraph 'Mordantly funny and searingly well written' - The Times


A plot that is at once thrilling and sensitively told
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, lucid, brilliant - a masterpiece 24 Aug 2008
This is a luminous, lucid, brilliant book - which is ironic, as in some ways it's a book about what isn't said or seen. Told in a subtle, witty, intelligent voice, this is funny, thoughtful and ultimately very moving - so complex and skilful that the "love story" or "coming-of-age story" labels simply don't do justice to it.

In the mundane, bleak world of a sixties boarding school next to the sinking East Anglian coastline, the narrator stumbles on the hut where a boy, Finn, lives alone, fending for himself. Entranced by Finn's beauty, strength, and freedom, he observes and then shares the idyll, escaping from a background of mediocrity and duplicity before inadvertently acting as the catalyst for the destruction of Finn's life. The relationship is perfectly judged - subtle, understated, described with a warmth and honesty that is laudable - and Rosoff encapsulates the feeling of attraction that is less I-want-you than I-want-to-be-you perfectly. The book acknowledges the self-absorption and naivety of the narrator without his losing our sympathy, and while his love for Finn is ambiguous at least it remains one of the most recognisable portrayals of desire I've ever read. In terms of action, it's fairly slow - don't anticipate wars, shootings, plane crashes, car crashes... and yet I found it the most compelling of Rosoff's books, utterly absorbing and truthful. It is also, of course, very funny.

I notice that the new cover is utterly romantic fiction - but don't be put off. This is far more gripping and interesting than it looks. It is probably more of a women's book than a men's one - I found the narrator perfectly male, but then I'm female, and my male friends have expressed some doubts - but it is sharper, more austere and has more integrity than that soft-focus seascape would seem to imply. So buy it anyway. Buy the kids' edition. Or buy one of each.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Achingly sad 16 Oct 2010
The memories of a Hilary, a man in old age remembering events in 1962 when he met and fell in love with Finn, a boy his own age living alone in a tiny hut on an island near by his school. The fact that it is clear that the man writing this memoir is recalling personal history with deep pain and regret adds to the aching tenderness of this powerful story and the sense that tragedy is sure to strike long before it does.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of friendship and love 19 Sep 2007
This is another wonderful book from Meg Rosoff. As she demonstrated in her previous novels How I Live Now and Just In Case, Ms Rosoff has a gift for getting inside the adolescent mind. What I Was is a story of friendship and love, recounted by Hilary in his old age when the coast of East Anglia, where his story unfolds, has slipped into the sea.

It is 1962 and Hilary, a difficult and unhappy 16 year old at a boarding school in Suffolk meets Finn, a boy of his own age who lives alone in a fisherman's cottage and whose enviable existence has somehow escaped the education authorities. The story of their relationship is sensitively and intelligently told, there is a tragedy, a twist and a scandal, and an ending which had this reader in tears.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but ultimately flawed 29 Dec 2009
By I Read, Therefore I Blog VINE VOICE
WHAT I WAS is narrated by an unnamed old man, looking back on what happened to him as a schoolboy when he was sent to St Oswald's boarding school in East Anglia in 1962.

The narrator is an underachiever with no interest in St Oswald's, which is his parents' last ditch attempt to secure a half-decent education. Despite the somewhat creepy and fawning attempts of Reese, another student, to befriend him, the narrator is content to go his own way until the day he finds a small fisherman's hut on the beach while out in a cross-country run. The hut belongs to Finn, a teenage boy who lives under the radar of the authorities, working for the local town market and educating himself with books left to him by his grandmother.

Despite Finn's ambiguous attitude towards the narrator's attention, the two soon form a strange friendship, but this isn't really enough for the narrator who is obsessed with Finn and his lifestyle. Things come to a head during a storm, when the narrator discovers some unpleasant facts and tragedy results from the same.

This is a strange story about obsession and despites the strong homosexual undertone, homosexuality is a theme that never really gets developed - indeed, although the narrator himself jokes about buggery in an all-male boarding school, he himself stresses that he does not think of himself as gay.

As a character study, I didn't quite find myself believing in the narrator or his situation, mainly because he doesn't explain a great deal about himself. There is even less information about Finn himself and I'd have liked to have known more about what draws the narrator to him.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read 23 Jun 2008
By Jade x
This book conjures up the same heart warming, life-questioning emotions as How I Live Now did, something that I felt Just In Case did not.
I just wish Rosoff's books were longer, with such intriguing writing methods she constantly keeps us hooked to the story. Some how I have come to believe that Rosoff works best when describing the long and often harrowing journies of a person and the architecture of the buildings they come across, as both How I Live Now and What I Was contained these features, something that made the books stand out to me.
With Hilary describing his journey from St.Oswald school to the life he wishes he has in Finn's hut, both factors of architecture and journey are opened up and gives us a vivid imagination of what the journey is like. The emotion between two people, I believe, has never failed to be written well by Rosoff and at times can bring on laughter and tears with just one line.
I hope Rosoff will continue to write such amazing books as this.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars What I was. By Meg Roscoff
A really interesting well written book. Couldn't put it down. Held my attention through to the end. Good descriptions of characters & relationships.
Published 4 months ago by Jeni Gray
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking story told with the most beautiful writing
I'm giving this five stars because I was under its spell from the first page to the last and every part of it was sensational. Read more
Published 6 months ago by V. Carlin
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, wistful
A tale beautifully, wistfully told but with a twist towards the end.

A lazy boy in a minor public school in the middle of nowhere becomes fascinated by a strange boy who... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't like it
I just couldn't get into the storyline though I tried going back to the book several times and perservering I eventually gave up relatively near the beginning. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Music Lover
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely book, wonderful for teenagers or adults.
i realise this pitched towards teenagers, and it touches on a popular theme - being able to run away and live an independent life, free from adult interference. Read more
Published 17 months ago by CatherineMT
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but uplifting as well
This is an achingly sad memoir of an older man who is remembering the memories of being a school boy in 1962, I was not sure about the book at first but the story line very soon... Read more
Published 18 months ago by rueyclem
3.0 out of 5 stars Review: What I Was by Meg Rosoff
What's Good About It

Meg Rosoff does write beautifully. Her prose is haunting and perfectly captures the intensity of the relationship between the main character and... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Liberty Gilmore
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Very well written, and i love the twist at the end! I will definitely read her work again,as she is a fantastic author
Published 19 months ago by Rachel Latham
4.0 out of 5 stars memorable
i really enjoyed reading this developing relationship and how these people lived and the landscape of the beach. HOW DOES SHE THINK UP THESE STORIES? SHE'S AMAZING. Read more
Published on 18 July 2012 by lesley
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but not flawless
What a beautifully written book! It really it startlingly poetic. I enjoyed it most for its language, but also for the relationship that saves a boarding school student from the... Read more
Published on 20 Jun 2012 by Amazon Customer
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