Thursday, September 13, 2012

How I Live Now: Critical Review

Same Person, Two Narratives

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is about a girl who is sent to live with her cousins in England. While there England goes into war against an unnamed enemy, sending Daisy on a journey of survival. To tell the story, Meg Rosoff forgoes the traditional English standards of writing to distinguish the story's present from the narrator's present.
Though the character who narrates the story is the same person throughout the book, there are two distinct narrators in the story: fifteen-year-old Daisy and Daisy as an adult.  To distinguish between the two I'll refer to adult Daisy as Elizabeth--which is her birth name but she is only called that once in the beginning of the book.
With Daisy's narration, bad grammar is the norm, which is demonstrated when Daisy meets Edmond for the first time:

I'll take your bag, he said, and even though he's about half a mile shorter than me and has arms about as thick as a dog leg, he grabs my bag, and I grab it back and say Where's your mom, is she in the car? (3)

Daisy doesn't use quotation marks, she doesn't always create a new paragraph when someone new speaks, nor does she always separate the dialogue from the would normally be the previous or following sentence.  Readers biggest clue that someone is talking are the dialogue tags and the capitalization of the first letter of the first spoken word, which some readers may find disconcerting the first few times they encounter it. There is a comma where a question mark should be and it is all a run-on sentence.
Using traditional grammar, the paragraph above would be at least three sentences long and broken into multiple paragraphs. However, applying the traditional rules to the text would have disrupted the ebb and flow that Rosoff has set up for the novel. Daisy's grammar also suggests numerous things to readers and any number or combination of those implications could be the reason for it.  The run-on sentences give readers the impression of a long-winded teenager or someone emotionally distraught.  The bad grammar could be because the narrator is uneducated or someone who is stream-of-conscious writing and not worrying about grammar rules.
However, in Elizabeth's narration proper grammar is used as is demonstrated with the first paragraph of chapter one:

My name is Elizabeth but no one's ever called me that. My father took one look at me when I was born and must have thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like an old-fashioned queen or a dead person, but what I turned out like is plain, not much there to notice. Even my life so far has been plain.  More Daisy than Elizabeth from the word go.

In contrast to Daisy's writing, Elizabeth's good grammar appears older, more sophisticated and more emotionally distant from the events described, which is probably true as Rosoff states that Daisy wrote her entire experience down shortly after being rescued.  And then implies that years later Daisy read over the experience, added her comments and published the book as written.
This combination allows leaders to get a sense of how Daisy saw the events shortly after living them and how she viewed they a few years later when she looked over her account of the events.  And allows readers to see how, years after the major story took place, things went for her when she saw her cousins again after the war.
By combining bad grammar with good grammar readers get a unique story that allows the story’s present and the narrator’s present to be viewed within the same scene from two different periods of time.



Works Cited
Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2006. Print.

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