My older sister is a big fan of the simple food. She likes rice, and cheese, and meat. You would think that Mexican food would be perfect for her, since it’s all just different ways of putting together rice and meat and cheese and sometimes potatoes and beans. But she hates Mexican food. All of it. Won’t eat it. The ingredients are perfect for her, but somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
That is how I felt about Matthew Kneale’s When We Were Romans. Its component parts were all good: Matthew Kneale, award-winning author; family drama; unreliable narrator; road trip; narrator fond of stories about ancient Romans. Nine-year-old Lawrence and his sister Jemima are taken by their mother on a trip to Rome, trying to escape from their father, who is trying to poison them (or something). Lawrence’s mother used to live in Rome, so she has plenty of friends able to take them in for a few days at a time, while they try to figure out what to do next. But the trouble that they feared in Scotland may have followed them to Rome.
Still, the book just didn’t do it for me. I was dissatisfied. Either the unreliability of the narrator was too obvious or too vague. The stories from ancient Rome that Lawrence told were too plainly applicable, or insufficiently so. Mostly, and y’all know this is true from how much I liked White Is for Witching, my preferences lie in the latter direction, vague over obvious, even if that means I end up not knowing what’s up. When We Were Romans tended to tilt the other way, and I turned up my nose. Another problem for me was that I didn’t find the story compelling enough. It was drab, in spite of the craziness the family was facing, and I like my running-away-from-home stories to be colorful. This is the second running away from home story I’ve failed to enjoy in the month of August. Any suggestions for a better one? I like running away from home stories! I’m sure I do, I always have!
I would also appreciate suggestions for a good book about the Brontës. Lynne Reid Banks’s Dark Quartet was as unsatisfying as When We Were Romans, or more so. This lent strength to two things I already suspected: first, that I am in the mood for fantasy right now, and second, that the Brontës were an unpleasing combination of lunacy and drabness. But I may be wrong. The Brontës may be far more interesting than I’m giving them credit for. So I would like your recommendations. I will read any book about any Brontë (not right now; later, when I’m no longer in the mood for only fantasy), if y’all think it’s good.