This time round there wasn’t a shortage of proofs for Meg Rosoff’s third book. Though luckily it didn’t turn out to be like buses either; coming in threes. It even seems I got one before Meg knew they were ready, but I dare say she had seen the contents of her book before the rest of us. In fact, when I heard what it was about, I was almost disappointed and felt it wasn’t a very Meg-y subject. But I should have understood that Meg knows what she’s doing. What I Was is the most wonderful story. It’s not got the New Yorker’s wit from How I Live Now, and none of the neurotic humour from Just In Case. It’s itself.
The book is about two sixteen-year-old boys in East Anglia, and is set in 1962. One of the boys goes to boarding school and the other lives alone in a cottage by the sea, on the outside of society. The schoolboy narrator meets Finn when out, and is drawn to this very different boy. He is pathetically grateful for any attention, and is even grateful that Finn doesn’t ask him to leave.
Meg describes life in a boys’ boarding school as though she has personal experience of it. She also seems to have had a past living wild, communing with nature, like Finn. And there’s quite a bit of Anglo Saxon history. She’s even put a witch in the story, so I’d like to think that’s me, except Meg’s witch is more clear sighted than I am.
There’s a lot here in this beautifully short book. It works as a very powerful love story, except not in the traditional sense. As with her earlier books, it’s Meg’s very special voice that makes the story. And I’d recommend you have a hanky standing by. You may need it.