Monday 16 May 2011

How I Live Now

I've been looking forward to reading How I Live Now since the enthusiastic reviews were published on the books release in 2004. Lots of glowing stuff. The Guardian labelled it an instant classic. Clever folks at The Observer wondered if she had dramatised adolescence itself, and externalised its inner landscapes. It won many prestigious prizes. Mark Haddon is quoted on the cover sprouting "A magical and utterly faultless voice".  The Australian reviews of the time were just as glowing. I was very keen to read it. Which is always a problem when you do eventually get to reading a book. What book can stand up to 7 years of hype and hope?

Still, I am glad to have finally read How I Live Now. It just didn't wow me in the way that I was hoping that it would. It's an interesting tale, well told. I like first person narratives. Here, we are inside the mind of fifteen year old Daisy, a New Yorker who goes to England to spend the summer with her aunt and four cousins that she has never met. Daisy likes using Capitals For Emphasis Quite A Lot. 

Very early on we get rid of all the responsible adults in the way of classic childrens books. Daisy's mother died in childbirth. Her father is married again to the pregnant, evil stepmother, so is essentially lost to her. Daisy has disconnected herself from them at least.  Daisy then travels to England, and her aunt has to leave the country on business for a week. All conveniently gone within pages of the start. 

How I Live Now is part of a larger trend of dystopian YA fiction that has been growing in popularity for the last 10+ years. I actually found it moderately similar to John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began, but not quite as compelling a page-turner for me.

Soon after Daisy arrives in England the country is invaded by an unnamed force, that quickly brings the country to its knees by bringing down the electricity and water supplies. Daisy and her four cousins are forced to cope on their own with their rapidly changing circumstances, and are quickly robbed of all the modern conveniences that we take for granted- phones, email, ready access to food, water and transportation. 

The book deals with some other big issues besides war and hardship- eating disorders and consanguinous relationships amongst them. Daisy is anorexic on her arrival to England. She explains this away as "not eating much", and that it came about because she didn't want "to get poisoned by my stepmother and how much it annoyed her and how after a while I discovered I liked the feeling of being hungry and the fact that it drove everyone stark raving mad and cost my father a fortune in shrinks and also it was something I was good at."

I wasn't quite ready for the violence in this book when it started, which is rather silly given that I know it's set in an England at war. But much of the time we are lulled into believing in a rather bucolic lifestyle with apple picking and cow milking. When the violence does start it's quite sudden and very brutal.

Perhaps I shall remember Daisy best for this line:
I don't get nearly enough credit in life for the things I manage not to say.
I feel similarly maligned in my own life. 

This is another book along the way on my quest to grow up.

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