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What I Was Paperback – 14 May 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (14 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141322462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141322469
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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

Review

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

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 lives alone, fending for himself, in a hut that if often cut off by the tides. The boy's birth was never registered so, technically, he doesn't exist and `they', the authorities, social services et al, know nothing about him. The other boy is envious, given the lack of privacy and freedom which mark his life. Escaping from the unheated (character-building) school and the stewed cabbage, he spends the night in the hut, only to have police and coastguards searching for him.

The market is described thus: Kitchen goods were next, steel teapots and cheap tin saucepans, heavy china plates with red marks above the makers' names to indicate rejected stock. Then the fabrics: great bolts of rough grey suiting made from wool mixed with waste cellulose that would be hell to wear. Further down the road the domestic products gave way to carefully composed pyramids of fruit and veg. It being October, that meant piles of dusty beetroot, huge cauliflowers, cabbages and great wooden bins of runner beans. In two months it would all change -- to parsnips, turnips, carrots and spuds.
Nothing about this market set it apart from ten thousand identical others scattered throughout England, but something of the noise and chaos excited me nonetheless. If I squinted to block out the shiny gadgets and trinkets, I could easily imagine myself a century or two earlier in a scene from Hogarth or Daumier. The faces certainly wouldn't have changed since then -- the broken veins, bulbous noses and crafty eyes lifted straight out of A Rake's Progress....
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Format: Paperback
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. Meg Rosoff's writing is so beautiful, and seems so effortlessly so - there are so many words and sentences that make you want to linger on the page until they are part of you, something you'll never forget. It is quite perfect.

But I was also disappointed. I wanted some moments of real happiness and Rosoff doesn't give us a single uncomplicated one, not a moment where everything comes together. You know, and this is life, but the author has a little say in things. I wished for and waited for further adventures and gushing communication and probably all of that would have been trashy and wrong but it was what I wanted. The worst of all teases - it came with a chapter of another book at the end, so what I thought would be an epilogue was snatched away at the last second.

That doesn't make the book less than five stars good. I think it is one of the best I've ever read.
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