When We Were Romans, by Matthew Kneale
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 restaurants. Other times, the mom is so confused about reality that she holes up with the kids for weeks.
My major complaint with this book is the frequent and obnoxious spelling and grammar errors. I guess Kneale was trying to channel his nine-year-old narrator, but I didn’t buy it. The errors were distracting and inconsistent. The narrator manages to use quotation marks and periods correctly, but can’t spell or use contractions? It just didn’t work.
Still, the story itself was compelling – and heartbreaking. The writing, other than the aforementioned errors, flows along as if you’re in a nine-year-old’s head. This book is ultimately worth the read for those who can get past the errors and can endure the tragedy of mental illness. Kneale is a good writer, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for his other books.
When We Were Romans, by Matthew Kneale [rating:3]