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When We Were Romans

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  919 Ratings  ·  201 Reviews
Lawrence is only a child, but he's the man in his family. His little sister is still too young to understand. When their mother drives her young family through the night across the continent to Rome, what begins as an adventure ends in imprisonment.
Published July 1st 2007 by Picador USA
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Aug 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Dec 23, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Agnieszka Kalus
Nov 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dość szybko domyśliłam się o co chodzi, lecz nie odebrało mi to przyjemności czytania. Na pewno lektura stała się bardziej emocjonująca.
Aug 17, 2015 rated it liked it
I'm torn on this book. I thought the story was wonderful and the characters were very real, but the writing style was a constant annoyance.

As the book opens, 9-year-old Lawrence is about to take flight with his mother and 3-year-old sister Jemima to escape the children's estranged father, who appears to be stalking them. They drive from England to Rome and then struggle to create a new life for themselves. The story is narrated by Lawrence, who I found to be a very believable little boy. He's cl
Sep 05, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Dec 24, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, fiction, humor
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 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
Jul 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Rachael Buckley
Nov 09, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just couldn't. I wanted to like this book, and I wanted to like Lawrence. But as other reviewers have noted, the author's use of random misspellings becomes annoying quickly, and it doesn't ring true with what is otherwise an intelligent, precocious boy who reads a lot.

For me, the mother's issues came through almost immediately, and the rest of the story dragged as she got worse and worse. The ending was very abrupt, and I would have liked a middle that didn't feel so bogged down and a better
Aug 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
Disappointing. While Kneale nails the voice of his young narrator, his inconsistant inclusion of spelling errors in the text is jarring and detracts from the flow of the novel. Most of us do no think in spelled-out words, so this really irked me.


I could spot early on that this novel was not what it was pretending to be and would take a large turn near the end. I was right, and the book seemed trite because of it.

If the narration hadnˋt been so true to the voice of a child, I woul
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
- 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.
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this, but I just liked it. It's told from the little boys pov but you saw the reveal a million miles away. I understand the comparison's to The Curious Incident, but it missed it by a longshot.
Jul 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
It reminds me of "The Curious Incident of the Dog During the Night". The novel is narrated through the mind of a young boy.

I enjoyed the psychology of it, but it was really obvious what was going to happen.
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This rarely ever happens, but I guessed the twist almost immediately, and after that there wasn't much left.
Andrea Dunlop
Sep 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My absolute favorite in the child-narrator tradition. Both heart-breaking and completely delightful.
Holland Bakowsky
Oct 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
Have you ever been to Rome; do you ever want to go to Rome? It seems like a great idea; however, for this family, a trip to Rome turned into a storm of problems. The book is “When We Were Romans”, by Matthew Kneale, and the family consists of a boy, Lawrence; his younger sister, Jemima; and his mother, Hannah. Lawrence is a nine year old boy who pretty much takes care of his younger sister and his mother. This may sound sexist, however, it is completely true. His mother is under the impression ...more
Mike Harper
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This story is told from the perspective of a child of indeterminate age - perhaps 8? - with syntax and spelling like one would expect from a talented child. I found this offputting at first, but I was drawn into the story by stages, and pretty soon I was anxious to learn how it would end.
The strong point here is the way in which Kneale introduces and then develops the main characters. The narrator, the boy Lawrence, is a particularly believable character. I liked him right away.
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
An easy read. Lawrence, the little boy who narrates the story, is written to be charming. It his his voice and the creative way he engages with the world that kept me reading.
Julia Johnston
Jan 28, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
More of a novella if you disregard the quasi-scientific digressions of the child narrator's mind. Other than that distraction it is a poignant story of a child dealing with parental disintegration and there is authenticity in the author's presentation of the child's viewpoint. However, it is a bit ridiculous to misspell and grammatically butler text in the arbitrary and random way he does. The child's viewpoint could have been realistically presented without maintaining the fiction that a child ...more
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Eva Mitnick
Oct 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grown-ups
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
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sarah Kabli
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Michelle Haviland
May 29, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Ryan Mishap
Oct 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
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 about Matthew Kneale...

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