When We Were Romans

When We Were Romans

by Matthew Kneale


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When We Were Romans is a haunting psychological novel and another masterful work from the author of the prize–winning English Passengers.Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man of his family. He watches over his mother and his willful little sister Jemima. He is the one who keeps order, especially when his mother decides they must leave their life in England behind because of threats from Lawrence's father. But their new life in Rome does not go as planned. Short of money and living off of his mother's old friends—all who seem to doubt her story—Lawrence soon realizes that things are not what they seem.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307387868
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/11/2009
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.69(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Matthew Kneale was born in London, the son of two writers. He is author of numerous prize–winning novels, including the bestselling English Passengers, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He lives in Rome.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One day scientists found something strange out in space. This thing was pulling millions of galaxies towards it, one of them is the Milky Way which is ours, but the scientists couldn’t see the thing because it was hidden behind lots of dust. They thought “this thing must be huge to pull all these galaxies towards it, and we are getting pulled towards it really fast, it is at millions of miles per hour, but it could be anything, nobody knows, it is a mystery.” They thought “this is strange, this is scary” and then they said “I know, let’s call the thing the Great Attractor.”

The great Attractor is pulling us right now. I think it is probably a huge black hole, because black holes eat everything, they even eat light so you can’t ever see them, they look just like a piece of really dark night. One day I bet there will be a big disaster, we will go nearer and nearer and then suddenly we will get pulled right in. It will be like a big hand gets us so we will vanish, because nothing can get out of a black hole you see, we will be stuck there for ever. It is strange to think that every day, every minute we are all being pulled towards the Great Attractor but hardly anybody knows. People go about their ordinary every day lives, they have toast for breakfast and go to school, they watch their favorite programs on the telly and they never even guess.

We were coming back from the supermarket, we went to a further away one where we never went before so it would be all right, and it was an adventure mum said, we must be really quick, we must be like birds diving down and getting some food and flying away with it in their mouths. It was fun, actually, we got our cart and we almost ran, we just grabbed all the tins and packets and milk and tinfoil etc etc. Then Jemima saw some sweets in a little purple tin and she said “oh I want them, I need them, please mum.” Mum said “don’t be silly now, Lamikin” which is what she calls Jemima sometimes “anyway those aren’t real sweets their cough sweets, their bad for you.” But Jemima didn’t listen, she never does, and she started crying like a big crybaby, she said “but I need them, I need that purple tin.”

She was still saying it when we were coming back in the car and suddenly we were almost home. We went past Mrs Potters house and the droopy trees which look funny like hair and I thought “uhoh” I thought “now there will be trouble” but I didn’t say anything of course, because we couldn’t ever say anything in front of Jemima, because she was too young to understand. But then there was a surprise, because it was fine after all. Jemima was terrible just like I expected, when mum stopped the car she said “I’m staying here, I want to go back to the supermarket” but mum was ready, she said “if you come with me then I’ll give you a nice treat” and it worked. Jemima went quiet and said “all right.”

Then we were so fast. Mum got Jemima out of her car seat and we all got all the plastic bags out of the trunk, I carried lots, even though they were really heavy, we went to the door, we were almost running, and Mum had her key all ready. That was when I looked round, I didn’t really want to but I couldn’t help it, I just had to. I looked at the fence and the bushes. But it was all all right, there wasn’t anybody at all. Then we were inside, mum shut the door, she locked it, and I thought “hurrah hurrah” I thought “look at all this food, this will last ages.” We put it away in the fridge and the cupboards, and after that I went up to see Hermann. I cleaned his bowls and gave him some new nuts and water.

Jemima followed like always so I let her watch, I said “no you can’t hold him.” Then it was time for robot wars, which is one of my favorite programs, there was a robot called the obliterator and another called the stamper which had a big sort of foot. So we sat on the sofa and I thought “I bet everything will be all right now” I thought “I bet dad will go away back to Scotland and then I can go back to school again, because I’m all better from my flu now” I thought “I wonder if Tania Hodgsons cat had its kittens yet, I wonder if they were all tabbies like their mum?” Jemima was being annoying like usual. She said “I don’t want to watch robot wars, I want to watch the other side.” I said “there isn’t anything on the other side Jemima you big silly, its just the news” but it didn’t work, she said “I want the clicker, I never get the clicker, its my turn.” Jemima is terrible with the clicker, she just does it again and again really fast so you can’t watch anything, so I said “you can’t Jemima, you’ll break it like you broke your new pink sunglasses.”

That was when mum came in. She said “here’s your treat lesonfon” which is what she calls us sometimes, it is “children” in French, she told us once. It was our supper, usually we can’t eat it when we watch telly but she said “just this once” and it was hot dogs and oven chips which was a treat too, because mum says we can’t have oven chips because their too expensive, their a real waste of money. Usually I would just be pleased by those treats, I would think “oh yes, how delicious” but this time I wasn’t actually, which was because I noticed mums face. You see, all that smiling she got from getting the food from the supermarket was just gone away again, it was like it all went down the plug hole, she tried to smile when she said “heres your treat, lesonfon” but it didn’t work, I saw it, she just looked all worried and desperate.

I looked at Jemima but she hadn’t noticed, she was too busy watching robot wars and trying to eat her chips too quickly, she said “ow too hot” she is such a greedy guts. I thought “what will I do, I must help mum” I thought “but I really want these chips, if I don’t stay and eat them then Jemima will steal them secritly, perhaps I should just stay and eat them really fast” but then I thought “no no, I must help mum now.” Suddenly I had an idea. I said “Jemima I am going to the loo, you can have the clicker just until I get back” and she was really pleased of course, she said “oh yes” and grabed it right out of my hand. I said “I’ve counted all my chips really carefully, Jemima, if you eat even just one tiny one then I’ll notice and I’ll put all your favorite dolls on a high shelf so you’ll never get them again.”

Mum was sitting in the kitchen. She jumped up a bit when she saw me, she said “Lawrence.” I said “whats wrong mum?” and she went really quiet, she said “what dyou mean?” so I said “somethings gone wrong, I can see it in your face.” She closed her eyes a bit, she said “oh Lawrence, I don’t want to upsit you with all of this” and she sort of squinted her eyes. I thought “she will tell me now” so I said “all of what mum?” and she did a little moan, she said “I don’t know what to do, its so awful, we just can’t go on like this.”

I really hated it when poor mum went sad like that. I thought “what can I do to help her?” but I couldn’t think of anything, I tried and tried, I thought “this is bad” until suddenly I had an idea. So I said “why don’t we go away for a bit, just until he’s gone away, we could go to Uncle Harry’s or somewhere.” Uncle Harry lives in London, he has a big house. We went there for Christmas but it was just for lunch, we didn’t stay because we are too noisy so aunt Clarissa gets a head ache, and mum gets worried Jemima will break Uncle Harries old plates which are stuck on the walls like pictures, they cost lots of money. But mum shook her head, she said “they’re away, they’ve gone skiying.” I thought “oh dam” I thought “there must be somewhere we can go” but it was hard actually, because mum doesn’t know many people, usually its just us in the cottage. I thought “I’m not going to give up now when everythings going so well, when we got all that food.” So I said “what about Grandma and Grandpa in Kew.”

Mum shook her head again, she was blinking, she said “he’d just follow us . . .” But then she stopped, she frowned like she was thinking really hard, and she said “unless . . .” This was good, at least she wasn’t just saying “no, nothing will work” so I said “unless what?” And then she said it, she said “unless we went somewhere really far away. Somewhere he’d never be able to find us. Somewhere like Rome.” Now she sort of squinted like this was better and better and she said “actually we could you know. I’ve got our passports from that time we almost went to France.”

This was different, this was a big surprise. Mum sometimes talked about Rome where she lived years ago before I was born, and how we must all go one day to see the fountains which were so beautifull and eat the food which was so delicious, but I never thought it would happen, especially suddenly like this. Another surprise was that mum didn’t look so worreid anymore, in fact she even did a little tiny smile, that was good. I didn’t want to stop mums new smile of course, I really wanted it to stay, but I just didn’t know, I couldn’t help it. So I said “but what about school?” because I had tests at the end of term, you see, and I had my science project too, I was doing SPACE for Mr Simmons, who was my favorite teacher. But Mum didn’t mind, that was good too, she didn’t go sad after all. She said “we could take all your books so I can teach you for your tests and help with your project. And anyway it wouldn’t be for very long, just till we are sure dads gone away. I could ring the school and say you’ve still got the flu.”

I thought “I suppose so, if its just for a short time. I can take my book on Space that I got for Christmas from Uncle Harry and Aunt Clarissa, that will be for my science project.” I thought “it’ll be a shame if I miss Tania Hodgsons kittens” but then I thought “it will be nice to see the lovely fountains.” But then before I could think anything else the door pushed open with a bang and Jemima came in and said “robot wars finished.” Probably she guessed we were talking about something without her, she had her spying look so I bet she was listening at the key hole but she couldn’t hear anything. You have to watch Jemima because she is everywhere. Mum pretended she wasn’t surprised, she pretended she was expecting her to come in suddenly like that, she clapped her hands in the air like she had a special treat and said “Jemima, we’ve got some big, big news. We’re thinking of going away.”

I thought “I will help mum” so I said “Yes, isn’t it exciting, we are going to Rome, won’t that be nice.” I don’t think Jemima knew anything about rome really, but she made her silly surprised face to pretend she did, then she clapped her hands and shouted “oh yes Rome Rome”.

So suddenly it was a real plan now, it was all finished. Mum was so pleased, she was smiling and smiling, that was good, that was wonderfull, because she hardly did that for weeks, not since I got the flu and dad came down from scotland secretly. It was like it was bubbeling out of her and making her eyes go blink blink. I thought “oh hurrah” I thought “this is good” I thought “I hope it doesn’t all just go away again.”

I went back and ate my hot dogs and Jemima didn’t eat lots of my chips after all, she might have got one or two, it was hard to tell. Then mum said there was no point in dillidallying, we must go to Rome right now, we must go tommorrow morning, which meant we had to start packing straight away. She said we had to be very careful, we mustn’t take too many things because they wouldn’t fit in the car, so she gave me and Jemima three boxes each. Jemima talked to all her dolls and her animals, she said “are you going to be good, no, then you can’t come” or “all right then, you can come to Rome” then she threw them into her boxes with some other things all in a rush, and she didn’t take any notise when I told her “Jemima you must chose carefully or you’ll leave your favorite things behind and then you’ll cry,” she just got angry and shouted “but I have been careful, I won’t cry.”

I thought “wow, we are going to Rome, that’s amazing.” It wasn’t easy packing. I wanted to take my computer consel, my football game, my drawing paper and pencils, and also all my Tintin and Asterix books, all my lego, my hot wheels cars and track, my school books and my book on space and of course there was Hermann and his cage, but that was much too much for my three boxes, so I thought “uhoh, this will be hard.” I could hear Mum in her bedroom packing, she wasn’t keeping watch at all, sometimes she just forgets, so I thought “that’s silly, mum” and I went into the sitting room so I could look.

It was a bit frightening actually, because when I started opening the curtain I thought “dads face might be right here on the other side of the window looking right at me.” But there was a strange thing too, because d’you know a bit of me sort of hoped he would be there, that was funny. That bit wanted him to look in with his silly smile and his hair that goes up like smoke, it wanted him to say “hey there Larry hower you doing?” But then I squashed that bit, I blew it up, I thought “oh no you don’t” and I thought “I don’t like you dad, just go away, don’t start pretending to be nice.” But of course he wasn’t there anyway, there wasn’t anybody, it was just the window pane, all tall and black. I put my hand on it, it felt cold, and then I went right up close to the glass to look out, but it was really dark, the light just went a little way, it did a bit of the grass, there was some of a bush, and I could hear the wind making the trees move, swish swish swish.

Reading Group Guide

"Touching and delightful. . . . Unswervingly authentic."
The Seattle Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Matthew Kneale's When We Were Romans. We hope they will enrich your experience of this deeply moving novel.

1. How does Lawrence see the difference between men's roles and women's roles? How does he cope with feeling like the man of the family (with tremendous responsibility) as well as his mother's very young son (with little control over his circumstances)?

2. How did your perception of Hannah change throughout the novel? Did you trust her husband?

3. Is the relationship between Lawrence and Jemima typical? Did it remind you of the way you and your siblings dealt with each other?

4. What do Cloudio, Beppo, the Vanhootens, and others in Italy seem to think of Hannah? What was Lawrence able to see that the adults could not?

5. What was the effect of Lawrence's reports on astronomy? How does he feel about the pending cataclysms of the universe?

6. What did Lawrence teach you about the Roman Empire? In what ways is his recounting of history refreshing? Were you as knowledgeable about science and history when you were his age?

7. How does Lawrence understand the lunacy of Nero, Caligula, and others? Does he recognize their narcissism and their sadism?

8. Do Jemima and Lawrence think of their trip as dangerous or amusing? Do they accept their mother's depiction of the trip as a grand adventure?

9. What does Hermann mean to Lawrence? Did you have a similar attachment to a pet when you were young? What do Lawrence's depictions of the other characters as animals indicate about his imaginative powers?

10. Compare Lawrence's voice to that of another child-narrated novel you admire. What makes his voice unique? What powerful qualities does a child's voice possess?

11. Discuss the scene of Hannah's return to Scotland. What do Lawrence's actions indicate about how loyal and impressionable children can be?

12. What did Rome represent to Hannah? How did the novel's varying settings create meaningful backdrops for the episodes in Lawrence's life?

13. What hallmarks of Matthew Kneale's storytelling style appear in When We Were Romans? In what ways does this novel expand on themes in his previous works?

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When We Were Romans 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
choosyreader More than 1 year ago
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale is really a long short story or perhaps, at most, a novella if you take out the quasi-scientific/historical digressions of the child narrator's mind. (Most of these extraneous musings I happily skipped over.) That said, the book is a poignant story of a young boy and his little sister dealing with parental disintegration and there is authenticity in the author's presentation of Lawrence's viewpoint and in the depictions of him and his sister (gotta love Jemima!) However, it is a bit ridiculous of Neale to randomly and arbitrarily misspell words and grammatically butcher the text; the child's viewpoint is realistically presented without attempting to create the (poorly executed) fiction that a child actually scribbled the prose. A proofread manuscript would enhance the reader's experience without detracting from the perception of seeing through Lawrence's eyes. By the way, contrary to Pat Conroy's assertion on this book's cover, this is nothing like Scout's viewpoint in To Kill a Mockingbird. Although Neale's story's narrator is telling of a past experience, it is barely in the past. Scout is narrating from the long vantage point of an adult - with all the reflection and understanding that implies - many years after the events depicted in the novel. There is a world of difference in those two approaches. Despite the flaws, I still enjoyed this quick read.
Dulcibelle More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this, in the way that I would enjoy talking to a precocious child. You have to keep in mind that the narrator is a nine-year old boy and sees the world from that vantage point. The book is written in as stream of consciousness (there were times I found myself gasping for breath just trying to keep up) and a lot of the spelling is phonetic (a little disconcerting, but easy to figure out if you pronounce the words). But, it works. The author succeeds in making the reader really get into Lawrence's life and the adjustments he has to make when his mother moves his little family to Rome.
efoltz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two children go on an adventure to Roman with their crazy mother. The mother becomes more and more paraniod that someone is out to get them. At times, the book read more like a memoir than a novel.
hsullivan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very fast, enjoyable read that features 9 year old Lawrence, who is forced to grow up maybe a little faster than he should. Himself, his mother, and his little sister are running from his father, and have travelled from England to Rome in search of some peace and solace, and they find that it's not easy being on the run. This story is told through Lawrence, who shows remarkable strength and restraint throughout the book. I loved it!
mcna217 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"When We Were Romans" by Matthew Kneale tells the story of the disintegration of a family as seen through the eyes of a nine year old boy. This novel is a entirely realistic account of divorce from a child's perspective. The author capably captures the bewilderment, anguish, and mixed loyalties of a child caught in the aftermath of his parent's separation. It is both well written and emotionally compelling. Even though the subject matter is depressing, Mr. Kneale is able to effectively capture the small, humorous, and poignant moments of childhood. I enjoyed this book a great deal and read it in one sitting. I would highly recommend "When We Were Romans" and look forward to reading "English Passengers" , also by Mr. Kneale.
BCCJillster on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
WHEN WE WERE ROMANS is a ride-along inside the mind of 9-year-old Lawrence, who is torn between maddening childish urges and being oh so responsible. Part of what's fascinating is that this is not a tale told in black and white, of good behaviors and evil deeds; it's colored with the crayons of childhood. Because we're privy to Lawrence's thought processes we get to feel along with him as he reacts to the adults in his world. And his reactions make good sense, from the inside.Lawrence, and his 3-year-old sister, Jemima, are rushed from London to Rome by their mom, who fears her estranged husband. She runs back to her pre-marriage circle of pals with two bickering confused kids and a hamster named Herman. With his feelings ping-ponging between siding with his mother (especially against the wild child Jemima) and being furious with her for the mess mom's making of their lives, Lawrence begins to change. And therein lies the best part of the novel for me. We are suddenly capable of remembering how we made choices at that age. Of how quickly impressions were formed and reversed. How absolutely urgent feelings and needs became. The devastating, stomach wrenching shock of realizing your world is falling apart. And the ultimate lack of control childhood imposes.When We Were Romans builds to a more than worthwhile ending. At times I wanted to push things along a bit, and the too cutesy device of using a child's misspellings was annoying and distracting. Kneale should have had faith in his ability to communicate "being Lawrence" without that crutch. If the misspellings had been limited to a diary, or even the spoken words, it might have felt more natural, but they were used throughout his thoughts (i.e., the whole narrative) and thus detracted from the flow. They also seemed overdone for a boy who read as much as he did. A fun bit is side tri ps through a tipsy condensed version of Roman history. As Lawrence reads books from a series of Hideous Histories, he begins to say things like "if you don't let go, I'll Caligula you!"Overall, quite a worthwhile read; one that book groups will love to discuss. It also raises questions about what your own children are thinking in unsettling ways and a reminder that each facial expression and reaction by an adult becomes a Tolstoy novel to a child. This is not a 'coming of age' novel; it's a bumpy ride through a fogbound obstacle course with glimpses of clarity and madness, as experienced by the child we used to be.
frisbeesage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A funny, sad, frustrating book about a young boy trying to hold his family together as his mother slowly goes crazy. I thought the voice of Lawrence, a nine year old boy, was impressively authentic. In fact, I liked the well developed personalities of everyone in the book. Sadly, in the end, the plot jsut didn't have enough meat for me and the ending wasn't very satisfying (even if it was more realistic).
lpmejia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For anyone who grew up in a home broken by divorce, Matthew Kneale¿s WHEN WE WERE ROMANS will strike a cord. Narrated by nine-year-old Lawrence, the book captures perfectly the confusion, mixed loyalties, and anxieties felt by children whose world has been upended by divorce. Kneale has constructed a powerful story here, one that not only reminds us what it was like to be young, but also how the actions of adults can have life-long consequences for our children.After a difficult break-up, Lawrence¿s mother decides to leave their home in England and move to Rome, where she lived happily as a young woman. Along with his little sister Jemima and his beloved hamster Hermann, Lawrence reshapes his life, keeping himself entertained with stories of famous Popes and Emperors while trying to cope with the reality of a new people, a new country, and an unfamiliar language, only to find in the end that, once again, nothing in his life was what it seemed.Kneale does an astounding job of capturing not only the speech, but the logic and thought processes of a child. Throughout the book Lawrence applies his limited little-boy experiences and knowledge of the world to each changing circumstance, sometimes with funny results, sometimes with tragic. In each case, however, we see behind the curtain of his thoughts and how they affect and inform his actions. Matthew Kneale has written a book that makes you laugh and cry in equal measure, taking you into a world where the adults around you hold all the keys and have all the power. That Lawrence nevertheless survives his experiences is a testament to the resilience of all children. It¿s a lesson we all should learn.
jocraddock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A charming story of a young boy, Lawrence, and his strong-willed sister Jemima, as they react to post-divorce trauma in their family. Written in the voice of Lawrence, the phonetic spellings and run-on sentences can be a challenge, but often invoke memories of the runaway-train thought patterns of young children.Lawrence attempts to hold true to his man-of-the-family status, placate his younger sister, and keep his mother in what should be less stressful, happier situations. His struggles with his own needs as a growing child are well examined.It is also a sad story of mental illness, and the effects of dysfunction visited on innocent loved ones.A page-turner through and through, I felt the book ended "short," although that is likely how most of these situations do end.
silverheron on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
WHEN WE WERE ROMANS by Matthew KnealeNan A. Talese, PublisherISBN: 978-0-385-52625-8I had not been reading a whole lot lately and decided that I would ease my way back into my 20 plus ARC pile. I chose this book out of the pile mainly because it was only 224 pages long and I figured I could blow through it fairly fast. What follows are my thoughts on this book. Please read the entire review before deciding on this book.I was hoping for something reasonably light. What I found was a well written book with lots of characters that I did not like. All of them had issues and not a tremendous amount of redeeming qualities. The early reviews likened this book to ¿To Kill A Mockingbird¿ and I spent most of the book wondering why. I truly fought my way through the book. The entire book was about the frustrations that the 9 year old protagonist was feeling. It starts out with his mother, his sister, and himself fleeing their cottage in England because of an abusive father that was stalking the family. They run away to Rome to stay with the mother ¿Hannah¿s¿ friends from years before. The troubles just seemed to get from bad to worse. Slowly throughout the book certain truths started to become more and more apparent to the reader. Even though the story was sad and frustrating I found myself wanting to read more and more. I wanted to have something good start to happen. I wanted the truth to finally come out. Finally when I was done I could feel satisfied. The ending was the best that could have come out of a very bad situation. During the book I got the sense of being a voyeur watching a train wreck taking place. It was painful yet I just could not look away. After I was done reading the book I started to really think about the character of the boy Lawrence that Matthew Kneale created. I don¿t think I have ever seen a better job of creating the voice of a nine year old child hopelessly trying to hold his family together. Torn between his needs as a child and his desire to care for his mother was so perfect that I was unaware of anything but his view of his world. Then in the end the difficulty of overcoming the situation that he was placed in was perfectly portrayed.If this book is not put on the classic shelf I expect that a hole will exist there than can never quite be filled. If you are looking for a light beach read this is not the book for you. If you want a book that makes you feel and explore the relationships of life this is for you. Highly Recommended
alluvia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don't start this book at 7 pm if you need to be bright-eyed at work the next day - this is my lesson. I was up until 1 am needing to find out what happens next, then what, then what, as the story (told through the perspective of a young boy, whose age I never did catch) unfolds and intrigues. First you think you understand what the family situation is, what the conflict is, then you begin to see what the child cannot and then, well, I won't spoil it, but just try to put it down! The voice of the narrator is believable, and the pieces of the puzzle come together at an elegant, tightly constructed pace. Loved it
Neverwithoutabook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an easy read and interesting, although I'm not sure I really enjoyed it. The story is told from the perspective of a nine-year old boy with all the focus and interests one would expect from this age. His friends, his hamster, his toys and his relationships with his family. Occasionally we are treated to excerpts of his learning about Space and Roman history. It is much more than that, tho, the reader finds, as the story unfolds. At first I was amused at the perspective, and I am impressed with the author's ability to stay 'in character' throughout. Some would be bothered by the mis-spellings and grammatical errors but it is what you would expect from inside the mind of a 9-yr old. There were definitely times I felt that Lawrence was mature for his age, like when he is trying his best to help his mother even when he's not sure what it is that she needs, and other times when I felt he was simply acting out by his deliberate misbehaviour. The interaction between him and his sister was completely believable. There were parts that puzzled me and the ending was not at all expected but did make everything clearer and more understandable. I don't like to give away an ending, so I won't, but I do feel this book is worth reading. It will draw you in.
EKAnderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 his mother, but sometimes he worries about her - she gets sad and stays in bed for days and some of her credit cards have stopped working. Lawrence has choices to make, but he really just wants to go home.The innocence of Lawrence lends itself well to Kneale's narrative, allowing the reader to see only what the boy sees, even if we know that much more is going on that he can't understand. Every detail - the Italian culture, the family drama, Lawrence's retelling of stories from his history books - will suck you in.
sheboom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A boy's daily life is affected by his mother's depression and anxiety. Narrated by young Lawrence; the phonetic spelling grows a little old by the end of the book. The end of the book is much more intriguing than the start of it; I could have done with more insight into Lawrence's future, but a book that leaves you wanting more isn't a bad thing.
24girl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 trouble begins again. Initially it was hard to get past the misspelled words and grammatical errors from the story being told by Lawrence but I kept reading and the storyline dragged along until midway through. Just at the point when I was about to throw in the towel and move on the book picked up the pace and the story came alive. Then it came to a screeching halt again with the ending. Saying anymore would be letting out a spoiler so I¿ll just say that the ending left me asking too many questions for this to be a satisfying read.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Matthew Kneale¿s When We Were Romans is written in the voice of nine year old Lawrence. Lawrence¿s mother is convinced her ex-husband is stalking them, so she and her two children run away to Rome to escape. Through Lawrence¿s eyes we see the automobile journey to Italy and the events which occur once they arrive.The character of Lawrence has been compared to that of Scout in to Kill a Mockingbird or Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I must say that when I was reading the first half of the book, I heartily disagreed. Lawrence¿s personality is very bland. His account of events is monotonous ¿ maybe because the events themselves are uninteresting. Closer to the end of the story, once his mother¿s lack of mental stability becomes apparent to the reader, the events and Lawrence¿s perspective become much more engaging. Interspersed with and related to the action in the story are Lawrence¿s musings on historical and space trivia. These blurbs are interesting to read and give us a glimpse of Lawrence¿s nine-year old personality. The language in the story is understandably childlike, but I found the spelling errors extremely irritating. At times it is appropriate. For example, Lawrence explains that ¿kaybeller¿ means very pretty in Italian. It made me smile to see how the unfamiliar phrase is processed in his young mind. However, throughout the entire book, words are written incorrectly, such as ¿their¿ instead of ¿they¿re,¿ lower case letters for names of cities, etc., etc. This is not supposed to be Lawrence¿s written account of events, he¿s telling a story. There¿s no reason for having scores of words misspelled throughout the book ¿ not only does it add nothing to the story, it is completely distracting.I did not find the bulk of this novel to be particularly interesting, but the ending was strong and redeemed the book to some extent.
caitemaire on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nine year old Lawrence, his younger sister Jemima and his mother Hannah are about to go on a trip. They are going to leave their cottage in England, drive through the Channel tunnel, across France and the Alps to their destination of Rome. The children will learn Italian and see the sites of Rome. Yes, it sounds like an exciting adventure.But there is more going on here than just a get away, a change of scene. Because Hannah believes that her ex-husband is stalking her and the children, poisoning the minds of their neighbors and about to do them harm. So they must flee, Hannah tells young Laurence, where his father will not find them.However, there are more problems, even before they reach Rome. It seems that young Lawrence is aware that he must be careful around his mother, watching her moods, trying to keep her from getting 'sad'. Yes, his mom has serious issues that we begin to see through Laurence's eyes and things are getting worse as the trip continues and there is a distinct feeling of trepidation as the story progresses and the feeling that things are heading toward an even more terrible conclusion.The author, Matthew Kneale, tells the story through Lawrence, using the speaking patterns and thoughts, grammar and spelling of a 9 year old. And to a large degree, he succeeds. Well, except with the spelling perhaps. I understand what he is trying to do, and when it comes to Lawrence dealing with the unfamiliar Italian places and such, his attempts to spell them as they sound to him make sense but the rest of the misspellings are inconsistent and often become just annoying. An interesting idea just taken too far.And then there is a problem, I think, with the character of Lawrence himself. He is described on the dust jacket as ¿endearingly innocent and preternaturally wise¿ but I would suggest he is neither. A child that grows up in a household where the parent is dealing with alcoholism, or drug use or mental illness learns at a very early age techniques to 'deal' with it. How to cover for the parent, what to say to outsiders, how to behave so as to not 'provoke' a reaction. And at times, Lawrence is aware of that and acts accordingly. He loves his mom, but he also realized something is wrong and something 'bad' is always possible, if he is not alert and ready to say or do something.But then, at times, he acts so contrary. True, he is only a child, but I see little preternaturally wisdom in his behavior. So, a bit of a mixed opinion. An interesting book that is worth reading, but not totally successful in it's execution.
zibilee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lawrence is a clever and lively nine year old boy with a penchant for astronomical trivia. He lives in England with his mother, 3 year old sister and his hamster Herman. Lawrence has a typical day to day life, fighting with his sister, speculating on his neighbors new kittens, and reading his favorite books. His mother though, is increasingly worried about his estranged father's malicious attempts at spying on the family and ruining her reputation among the neighbors, and decides it would be safer to relocate the family to Rome, where she lived before she met her husband. The trip is as troublesome as it is adventurous, and everyone looks forward to excitement and new situations. Once in Rome, "Mum's" friends seem glad to see her and offer help, but soon the family wears out their welcome. Struggling from place to place, Lawrence regales the reader with tales of unusual emperors and frightening popes, while trying to help and comfort a mother who is distraught and despondent. After finagling a place of her own for her family to live, it becomes clear that Mum's version of events regarding her husband do not reflect the reality of what has been going on. Lawrence, struggling to maintain an equilibrium in his world, must cope with the day to day life in a world where nothing is as it seems, and there is danger in very unsuspected places.I was aware going into this book that there were spelling inconsistencies and that they book was told from the perspective of a child. I believe that the knowledge of this particular aspect of the book enabled me to accept it and disregard it more easily. I did notice that some words were spelled differently at different times, but it was not something that deflected my appreciation of the story. Though I easily saw Lawrence's mother's real conflict, the way the author handled the voice of Lawrence enabled me to see it from another perspective, one that highlighted the mystery and rationalization of a young boy in the face of unknown mental turmoil. Lawrence seemed both innocent and shrewd, not understanding the depth or gravity of his family's problem, but knowing that he had to be the man of the family and help his mother cope with the inevitable. At one point he mentions his responsibility as the only logical solution, for if he lets go, there will truly be no one who can cope. His staunch determination was staggeringly heartrending. At once scary and humbling, looking through Lawrence's eyes I saw the hopefulness and rationalizations of a child who is clearly in the dark, yet believes he can see everything clearly. It was an odd way of seeing things, at such an oblique angle, that I found it both entrancing and horrific. At times, it was so dreadfully uncomfortable to imagine life in this 9 year old mind, complicit yet not complicit, aware yet shielded by the very guilelessness of adolescence.I thought this was an excellent book. The tale was unexpected, and told in such a way as to render it lively while still being very serious. In fact, I believe that the light manner of the narration did something to heighten the impact of the dramatic elements of the story. In this case it was not so much as an unreliable narrator as an inexperienced one, making sense of the story in the only capacity that he could. While things are stark for the reader, the main character remains in a state of innocence that effectively renders his inability to document an occurrence in the horrible worldly way we are familiar with, and in the end paints a picture of anguish in an elegant way. This is an unusual book, but one well worth the effort.
detailmuse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In When We Were Romans, precocious young Lawrence tells of the time he and his mother and little sister fled from the UK and his stalker-father, and lived for a time with friends in Rome.Lawrence¿s stream-of-conscious(ish) narration is marked by a child¿s struggle with spelling, an interest in cosmology and Roman rulers, and a quirk of attributing animal labels to the people he meets. It¿s an original voice, not so much unreliable as naïve, and although it grows overdone and tedious, it¿s a terrific immersion into a child¿s perspective, specifically a child in the midst of family dysfunction.NOTE: There¿s a suspense aspect to the novel, with a twist that¿s well-earned, and the best part of the book was having it dawn on me and then be confirmed through a gradual accumulation of clues. Thus I strongly recommend against reading reviews (and potential spoilers) before reading the book. Instead, jump in and enjoy!
TrishNYC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is an interesting read that delves into the topsy turvy world that young Lawrence, his sister Jemima and their mother live in. The story is told by Lawrence a nine year old boy who has been forced by circumstances to shoulder way too much responsibilities for such a young child. Shortly after meeting the family, they are on the run from a father who is portrayed as an ominous figure who means to do his family ill. The family ends up in Rome, living on the mercy of friends, charity of strangers and some good old fashion luck. Through it all Lawrence is our guide, fascinated by Roman leaders of days past, astronomy and trying to navigate the world around him.Very early on I realized that Lawrence is not as reliable a narrator as he would have us believe. His naivety clouds his ability to realize the true enormity of his situation. But this is not his fault as he is only a child and has a child's propensity to believe adults that he has come to love and trust. I believe that most people will realize certain facts very early on and know what is really going on. But I will not go into those details cause I hate when people spoil a book for those who have not read it.I thought it was an a good enough read. Some of the draw backs of this book is that it is told in a child's voice, complete with misspellings. For awhile that literary device worked but then it just got a tad annoying and overdone. The book also dragged in parts and as much as it was a short book at 224 pages, I think it should have been shorter as parts of it just felt unnecessary. One of the best things about this book was its ability to convey the powerlessness of childhood, the petty jealousies of youth, sibling rivalry and the many feelings and emotions that being a child evokes.
stephivist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Children are taught to trust their parents, but what happens in a family when the parent cannot be trusted? This question is played out in When We Were Romans. Kneale writes this story from the point of view of nine year old Lawrence with a tumultuous family life, complete with spelling errors and all the confusion of a young child lacking enough knowledge to understand his situation. As others have mentioned, the reader knows the likely story development long before the nine year old narrator (personally I found the ending to be utterly predictable), but this makes the story all the more engrossing. The important part of this novel is not any individual event, but the perception of and reaction to the events by Lawrence. Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend id. I found some parts to be slow, but the authentic voice and experiences of Lawrence kept it moving.
icolford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kneale convincingly writes from the perspective of ten year old Lawrence, who is thrust into the role of protector of his mother and sister when his mother flees London for Rome. The book has twists and turns aplenty, but the ending is especially poignant, not to give anything away...
dulcibelle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this, in the way that I would enjoy talking to a precocious child. You have to keep in mind that the narrator is a nine-year old boy and sees the world from that vantage point. The book is written in as stream of consciousness (there were times I found myself gasping for breath just trying to keep up) and a lot of the spelling is phonetic (a little disconcerting, but easy to figure out if you pronounce the words). But, it works. The author succeeds in making the reader really get into Lawrence's life and the adjustments he has to make when his mother moves his little family to Rome.
iubookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When We Were Romans is told from the viewpoint of a nine year-old boy. Kneale's ability to maintain that voice throughout the book is remarkable even if a bit wearing. Lawrence, the narrator, gives the reader a stream of consciousness view into his journey to and adventures in Rome with his mother and younger sister.I found the writing style tedious. In fact, I'm slightly annoyed with myself for finishing this book. I kept getting frustrated with it all the way through, but kept at it to find out if my hypothesis about this family was right. And, of course, it was. This is not an uplifting, or particularly original, story so don't expect it to be.Bottom Line: If reading misspelled words and grammatically incorrect sentences drives you crazy, I wouldn't recommend this book for you.
kkkoob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A work reminiscent of "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" or "Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close" in the voice of the young narrator. An engaging, yet eerie novel as the mother's mental illness begins to more completely invade the storyline.