What I Was by Meg Rosoff
Viking , New York, 2008
What I Was is a lyrical and tender story of perception and remembrance, told by a man identified only by the initial “H” who is nearing his 100th birthday. It is made up of the memories of a time spent on the coast of East Anglia in England, of exclusion and bullying at school and of a person he met, a boy living alone in a shack on a part of the beach that is being overtaken by the sea. Rosoff has her narrator drift back in forth in time, but always speak in the same voice, the voice of a man looking back at a wondrous and confusing time in his life. There are twists and turns, storms and sorrow.
This story is layered with the history of England and the history of the land itself. In clear, precise language Rosoff connects the life of the land, the lives of its people, and the history of the long gone cities and castles that dotted that part of the coast. The land is transient, constantly changed by the sea. This transience is mirrored in the story H tells, his thoughts of his family, his surroundings, his feelings for Finn and his own self-awareness. The book is a quiet love story, filled with longing. It is a tale about the kind of love we all hope to experience once or twice in our lifetimes.
I can be there again now, huddled in a private pocket of warmth as the fire dies and the hut cools, snug against the roar of wind and sea, wrapped in blankets permeated with Finn’s smoky wood smell, and always aware of the other presence in the the loft above me, mysterious and powerful as an angel. After all these years, I can barely think back to that night without succuming to emotions both wonderful and terrible, to a feeling as deep as the sea and as wide as the night sky. It was love of course, though I didn’t know it then and Finn was both its subject and object. Page 51
I am very much looking forward to Rosoff’s next novel, The Bride’s Farewell, which will be published in August in the U.S. Here is a link to her wonderful web site.