Saturday, July 31, 2010
BookLook Review "When We Were Romans"
“When We Were Romans”
The novel “When We Were Romans” by Matthew Kneale describes a family in crisis through the eyes of nine year old Lawrence. His family lives in fear that the father will return from Scotland and harm them. Lawrence’s mother hurriedly loads his little sister Jemima and a few belongings including his precious pet and they drive through the underwater chunnel to Rome.
Lawrence’s mum used to live in Rome when she was single and still has friends there where they hope to find refuge and start over. Spending a few days with each of them, the little family seems to be getting on their feet with the help of an interesting cast of characters. And then their world unravels again. Despite his efforts, our young narrator cannot save his family from itself.
There are similarities to other recent novels including “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” which use a child as narrator. The mysterious adult world described by a precocious child is always an amusing and bewildered perspective. They cannot understand what is really happening around them which causes the reader to be equally confused at times.
One of the charming aspects of the novel is that young Lawrence assigns animals to adults as he meets them and uses the phonetic spelling of a young child. A woman who is small with dark hair and gives quick little kisses as greetings reminds him of a squirrel. She is labeled “Chintsier squirrel”. Another is “Crissy chick” since her hair is short, yellow and stands straight up. He is also fascinated by his new book describing past rulers of Rome and sums up their history in his funny misspelled childish style. “One day there was a big fire in Rome, it went on for days, and some people said Nero did it because he was emporer but nobody was sure. Thousands of famous temples and houses got burnt down and Nero went up a tower to watch, he said doesn’t it look beautiful and then he sang a long song.” His version of history is much more entertaining and simplified than a high school history text.
I suppose I would only give this book 2 out of 5 stars if I did that sort of rating. I don’t usually since it is too restrictive and often misleading in a book review. There were things I really liked about this book, and things I didn’t. It did have moments of great reading but it also had sections that didn’t quite ring true. I give it a guarded recommendation to those interested in the struggles of children and adolescents dealing with the confusion of living in a dysfunctional family.