When We Were Romans
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When We Were Romans

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  736 ratings  ·  178 reviews
Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man in his family. He watches protectively over his mother and his wilful little sister Jemima. He is the one who keeps things in order, especially when, quite suddenly, his mother decides the three of them must leave their life in England behind.

Their destination is Rome, where she lived when she was young, and as they drive through the night...more
Published by Picador USA (first published December 3rd 2007)
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Aug 29, 2008 Martine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'
A few years ago, Mark Haddon had a global hit on his hands with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book written from the perspective of an autistic teenage boy. While I enjoyed The Curious Incident, I found it somewhat overrated, mostly because I didn't buy the teenage protagonist. Now Matthew Kneale (who wrote one of my favourite books of the last few years, English Passengers) has a shot at writing a book from a child's point of view, and as far as I'm concerned, he does a be...more
Usually I’m put off by books written from the POV of a child. The kid so often comes across as either imbecilic, way too cute, or precocious beyond his years. This time the writer almost pulls it off. Not flawlessly, but pretty darn well.

The kid in question is Lawrence, is nine years old when his mother suddenly packs up the car and takes off for Rome where she’d been living when she met her husband, the kids’ father. Now she and the kids are fleeing the husband, whom she assures the kids is hu...more
Nine year old Lawrence and his little sister Jemima go on a road trip from England to Rome with their mom who lived their years ago, as they flee what seems to be impending danger from a belligerent estranged father who was last seen in Scotland. The story is told by young Lawrence, who feels a strong sense of responsibility for his mother and sister, and also for his pet hamster Hermann, who joins them on the journey. Lawrence is fascinated by astronomy and by the political machinations of anic...more
Feb 05, 2009 jo rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: jeff
i've read three books in a row now that are narrated by young kids (the curious incident of the dog in the night-time and the all true adventures of a part-time indian, besides this one). i think i'm ready to take a break. childhood is terribly difficult, and these specific kids have it particularly hard. young lawrence of When We Were Romans, alone among these three, has a deeply dysfunctional family life, and for this reason alone he's the one who broke my heart the most. in fact, unlike in th...more
Lawrence, who is about 7 years old, his younger sister, and his hamster are driven to Rome by his mother. She is divorced, but fears that family's safety is being threatened by her ex-husband. Her attempts to re-establish old friendships in Rome, and her paranoia, are brilliantly described in Lawrence's words.

Kneale presents a series of events through the eyes of an innocent, but perceptive child, and in his words, complete with his peculiarities of spelling and naive grammar.

This book is both...more
Jan 27, 2008 David rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Dark fiction lovers
This book messed with my mind.

I wonder if a book as disturbing as this one is so effective because it's well written - it was a tough read even though it rang scarily true. It's due out in Fall 08' and I'm very interested to see if it'll be critical success. The haunting aspects of this story crushed me. Our precocious child narrator is adorable, keen, clever and just wants mom to be happy. He's taken on a cross continental adventure with with Herman the hamster, his adorable toddler sister to R...more
When We Were Romans, by Matthew Kneale. New York. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2008, 240 pp.

For me, When We Were Romans was a pleasant introduction to the writing of prize-winning bestselling author Matthew Kneale (English Passengers). Now the hardest part is to convey my enthusiasm without giving away the storyline.

The vastness, power and mystery of outer space, as explained through a nine year-old’s appreciative awe, open this adventure, invoking a feeling of slight dizziness and of not being ab
The adventure of the road trip gives way to the unease and fear of being on the run in this beautiful, harrowing story of a British boy’s journey to Italy and back.
The story is old from the point of view of 9-year-old Lawrence — a tricky prospect but one that the author finesses seemingly without effort.
The boy, his 3-year-old sister Jemima and his hamster, Hermann, have been whisked to Rome by the children’s mother, who is convinced that their father is stalking them and trying to kill them. Th...more
Narrated in the voice of nine-year-old Lawrence, the story begins when his mother, Hanna, becomes convinced that their estranged father is stalking them. Hanna packs up the car and the family sets off on a trip from their home in London to Rome.

Once in Rome, the city where Hanna lived as a young woman, the family bounces from friend to friend quickly overstaying their welcome in each place. Then just when it seems that they’ve found a place to call their own the unthinkable has happened and tro...more
"The salient feature of the novel is that it is told in the first-person voice of a nine-year-old boy, Lawrence, complete with grammatical and spelling errors. The gimmick was more annoying than anything else. I have no problem with telling the story through the filter of childhood, and using a stream-of-consciousness type voice along with the misunderstandings and mistakes common to children, but Lawrence's spelling seemed to contribute little to that filter and was, instead, highly distracting...more
Julia Johnston
My mother bought me this book, in hardback, for Christmas and I must say I was immediately drawn to the great title and intriguing book cover. Good 'kerb appeal' as an estate agent might say! Excellent first impression.

Three distinct sections make up this book. The first, before they arrive in Rome, the second when they're in Rome, and the third, when they come back from Rome ('they' being a mother and her two children).

My favourite section was the final one–when the mother and two children retu...more
- Read "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" instead.

- Just didn't care much about the characters

- It's interesting to see the logical conclusion coming, but I may have gotten annoyed waiting for it.
Andrea Dunlop
My absolute favorite in the child-narrator tradition. Both heart-breaking and completely delightful.
Book review 5
When We Were Romans
(1 book)

Matthew Kneale's When We Were Romans enchanted me with its unique style and dynamic story.

Nine year old Lawrence is the man of his family. When his mother, Heather becomes convinced that her ex-husband is stalking them, she moves the family to Rome. Because the story is told by Lawrence, you understand their circumstance in a somewhat altered from, through his youthful eyes. Constantly plotting ways to leave his "cry baby" little sister behind, the young...more
E. Anderson
Nine-year old Lawrence lives with his mum and sister, Jemima, in England. They constantly have to worry that their estranged father will come from Scotland and hurt them. So one day his Mum packs them up and tells them they're going to stay in Rome until it's safe again. They drive and drive, and finally find their destination only to be passed from friend's house to friend's house. Lawrence's mum says their father is turning their friends against them, and Lawrence wants to do his best to help...more
It is so refreshing when you read something and it makes you go "Oh that's what it's like to actually like something instead of just tolerate it since you're already reading it!" This is a good book, hooray. Thanks to Meg for giving me a copy after I read a really good review of it in Salon. On New Year's Day my kitten peed on the dust jacket but the book was fine, and it turns out the inside cover is even prettier. Good job cover art.

I know there's a lot of these books, grownup books with child...more
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 2009
Number of Pages: 224
Geographical Setting: Rome, England, Scotland
Time Period: Contemporary

Three Words or Phrases Best Describing this Book: Child narrator, family-centered, conversational

Plot Summary: As the man of his family, nine-year-old Lawrence wants to do what’s best for his mother, Hannah, and three-year-old sister, Jemima, even though that’s not always easy. So when Hannah is convinced that the kids’ father is stalking the family and poisoning...more
Kathy (Bermudaonion)
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale is told from the perspective of 9 year old Lawrence. He lived in England with his mother, Hannah, and his sister, Jemima. Lawrence’s parents were divorced and his mother thought his father was spying on them and breaking into their cottage. So, Hannah packed Lawrence and Jemima up and headed to Rome, where she’d lived before she was married. While the three of them are there, things began to unravel and the reader realizes that Hannah is mentally ill before...more
Bill Keefe
I just had to read another Matthew Kneale novel, having been so smitten by English Passengers. But then I saw that it had a young boy as protaganist. Having just finished "The Curious Incident of the Dog...," I couldn't run away fast enough (what am i becoming a children's literature specialist?) and eyed it warily sitting cover-down on the back seat of my car. Finally, having only 72 hours before I had to hand it in to the library, I reluctantly waded in.

Thank you for time limits! The book was...more
Alison (Ali of Worducopia)
A fascinating look at a dysfunctional family. The themes of fear and longing for safety are reflected not only in Lawrence's family troubles, but also in his ruminations on Roman history and science. The narrative voice of a 9-year-old boy comes through clearly in this work, and would succeed equally well without the misspelling peppered sparingly throughout the text, a device which, judging from reader reviews, may be more distracting than effective. (For those who regularly read the actual wri...more
Connie Mayo
This book reminded me of Room, although I did not enjoy it as much. The idea is great - first person point of view of a young boy who has a mother prone to depression and other things, on the run from an abusive father, putting the boy in the position of being the problem solver for the family. It's a pretty heartbreaking premise, really. But at one point I put it down, not intending to pick it up again. I think it had something to do with the pacing (how many different apartments in Rome do we...more
As a new mother, I often obsess about how what I say and do now will affect my two-year-old in the future. Does he file it away every time I scold him or choose doing the dishes over making a puzzle together, someday to revisit it on a therapist's couch? I try to remember that my son is certainly luckier than many-nine-year-old Lawrence, for instance-acting the man in the family as his mother packs he and his little sister up and drives them through the night from their home in England to Rome....more
Sarah Kabli
When We Were Romans tells the story of Lawrence, a nine-year-old boy who has taken on the burden of being the "man of the house." The story opens with Lawrence and his mother in fear of Lawrence's father, who has been stalking the family. The mother decides to take Lawrence and his three year old sister to Rome, where she was happy before she got married to Lawrence's dad. They stay with a series of her old friends at first before eventually finding a slightly more permanent place of their own....more
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale is narrated by a precocious 9-year-old boy, Lawrence, and is reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, another adventure story in which adult situations are filtered through the eyes of a child. Unlike the autistic Christopher in Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, Lawrence is not disabled; rather, he’s preternaturally mature. When his erratic mother, Hannah, takes him and his three-year-old sister, Jemima, on an adventure from London to Rome,...more
Michelle Haviland
Matthew Kneale’s novel, When We Were Romans, is an intriguing story written in the point of view of nine year old Lawrence, a boy forced to take care of his mother and sister after his parents’ divorce. When his somewhat troubled, possibly mentally ill mother, Hannah, discovers that her ex-husband is stalking them, she impulsively decides to move them to her old hometown, Rome. Since his mother is a little out of it sometimes and his obnoxious sister, Jemima, is even younger than him, Lawrence...more
Shonna Froebel
This is the story of nine-year-old Lawrence and his family. When his mother Hannah believes her ex-husband is stalking her with ill intent, she drags Lawrence and his younger sister Jemima off to her old stomping ground of Rome from their home in London.
The entire story is told from Lawrence's point of view. Lawrence both annoys and placates young Jemima, observes his mother's old friends, and deals with his mother's changing feelings. I liked how Lawrence matched the people he met with animals...more
Steve lovell
I was a big fan of Kneale's bestselling 'English Passengers', so when I spotted this at an incredibly cheap price in a bin at a place called 'Shiploads' - you can imagine what the locals call this cut-price mart - and saw its enthusiastic blurb from esteemed reviewers,I snavelled it. I though I was in for another treat despite said bin being overloaded with copious copies of this title.
I knew from the opening chapter that it would be a let down, and though I bravely ploughed on I continued to be...more
I received this book for free from the publisher. All content and opinions are my own.

When We Were Romans is narrated by nine-year-old Lawrence. His mother clearly has a mental illness, largely marked by paranoia. Convinced that her ex-husband, Lawrence's father, is out to get her, she packs up Lawrence and his little sister Jemima and leaves England for Rome. The story yo-yos between the good times and the bad times. Sometimes the mom is okay and goes to work and takes the kids to parks and res...more
Eva Mitnick
In Matthew Kneale's When We Were Romans, a 9-year-old British boy named Lawrence writes of the tumultuous, confusing time when his mother drove his little sister and him to Rome quite suddenly. Lawrence understands that they are fleeing the threat of his father, who has separated from his mother but who is apparently stalking the family.

What Lawrence doesn't understand, though the reader slowly does, is that Lawrence's mother is mentally ill. At first she seems to be a fine and loving mother who...more
Ryan Mishap
Nine year old Lawrence and his mother, Hannah, are united by a threat they must keep secret from his younger sister Jemima: their father has come back to London from Scotland to harass them at their cottage. Convinced he means them harm and is turning the neighbors against them, Hannah takes the children to Rome, where once she was happy. Once there, Lawrence and Jemima are hauled from old friend's place to old friend's place. Each visit results in some sort of conflict and it isn't long before...more
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Matthew Kneale was born in London in 1960, read Modern History at Oxford University and on graduating in 1982, spent a year teaching English in Japan, where he began writing short stories.
Kneale is the son of the writers Nigel Kneale and Judith Kerr.
Bibliography: Whore Banquets (1987), Inside Rose's Kingdom (1989), Sweet Thames (1992), English Passengers (2000), Small Crimes in an Age of Abundanc...more
More about Matthew Kneale...
English Passengers Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance Sweet Thames Mr. Foreigner An Atheist's History of Belief: Understanding Our Most Extraordinary Invention

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