jo's Reviews > When We Were Romans

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
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Feb 05, 09

bookshelves: great-britain, psychic-pain
Recommended for: jeff
Read in February, 2009

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 the other two books, there isn't any room for laughter in this one, or at least there wasn't for me (i'm not very good at picking up humor unless it's clearly signaled).

at first i was a bit bothered by the formal resemblances between this book and Incident (boy talking in the first person with funny language -- here the funniness of the language is in the misspellings, but both books clearly indicate they were physically written but their narrators -- interspersed with little bits of erudition on the part of said boy), but i must grant kneale a greater cohesiveness, because lawrence's erudition (he's an avid consumer of astronomy and especially gruesome stories of roman emperors) play in counterpoint with his misadventures and add whole and complex levels of violence, rage, terror, and desperation to them. lawrence's stories tell the story lawrence cannot tell about himself.

i love the way lawrence's mother is treated by the book. her increasing mental disorganization is presented with respect and kindness, and it doesn't feel at any point condemned by the author. true, lawrence is having it extremely tough, but his mother clearly loves him and his sister and means the best for them. in fact, in spite of the psychological torture she unwittingly puts them through, she is gentle towards her children and uncommonly respectful of their desires (if not of their needs).

i don't know about mothers and kids. children are born to imperfect parents who had imperfect parents and were kids themselves. one doesn't become a better person just in virtue of having a kid, yet the burden of expectation that is put on mothers' shoulders is tremendous. fathers get away with a ton more. i would like to declare a moratorium on mothers. so kids will get screwed up by deficient parents. oldest story in the world. i extend a forgiving hand to beleaguered mothers.

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message 1: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Great review, jo!


Jeff Thanks Gio! I'm going to get a hold of this one.


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