A Review: How I Live Now (book + movie) – Spoiler Free!

I first heard of How I Live Now when I was frantically searching ComingSoon.net for my next article on November releases. I briefly glimpsed at the trailer, but it hardly made an impression. I’m not a huge fan of Saorise Ronan – not that I dislike her, I suppose I just haven’t seen any of her better works. City of Ember… shudder.

However, it was the synopsis for the movie that really drew me in.

Fifteen-year-old Manhattanite Elizabeth (who goes by the name of Daisy) is sent to stay with cousins on a remote farm in the United Kingdom during the outbreak of a fictional third world war of the 21st century.

Third world war? Count me in. But you know, in a figurative sense.

Next day, I decided to do something that any self-respecting writer/movie-enthusiast would do. I went to Chapters and bought the book, insisting that I read the book first before I watched the movie. My determination was short-lived, as the book sat on my desk for about 4 more days before I was eventually bored enough to actually pick it up and read it.

I did finish it in one night though. I couldn’t put it down.

The book (2004).

Pages: 192

One of things you’ll probably notice first is Meg Rosoff’s prose. The entire novel is written as a sort of teenager’s journal/memoir, and so it was written thusly. At first it was disorienting, then it was annoying, then it hit me about 40 pages in that if I looked back at my journals from when I was just a young sapling, this was probably how I would’ve written. Run-on sentences, over-dwelling on imagery, half-witted snappishness and any other head-scratch worthy word choices you could possibly think of.

But if you look past the surface, the novel paints a wonderful, sprawling, hauntingly romantic picture of the British countryside. Before, during and after war time. What starts out as an angsty teenager out of her pond story, becomes horrifyingly gritty and surreal as war slowly grips the country. From the food shortages to the eventual hostile takeover – the fear is gradual, and very, very real.

While the war serves as a skeleton for the story, the romance is the lifeblood of it all. Daisy falls in love with the eldest cousin, Edmond. And even as they’re literally torn away from each other by the war, her love for him wills her to stay alive to the very end. It’s like a teenage romance without all the cliches and the sparkling vampires and they actually have sex and it’s not stupid.

Time skips around quite a bit, spanning over several months. My only bone to pick with the book is how abruptly it all ends. I wanted a little bit more pay-off for the gruelling experience I was put through for the last several dozen pages, but I suppose that’s kind of the theme of the story.

The movie (2013).

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Saorise Ronan, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, George MacKay

I may be a little biased, but I’ve always thought the British countryside was deviously romantic. As a new fan of the book, I was pleasantly surprised they managed to capture the tone and imagery the novel presented – almost fantastical in a way and bathed in perpetual twilight.

Movie-verse Daisy is much angrier and confrontational than book-verse Daisy. Again, I was happy to find that I actually enjoyed Saorise Ronan more than I thought I would. There’s one difference between the two Daisies that I found a bit strange: movie-verse Daisy is plagued with almost schizophrenic voice-overs criticizing her physical appearance, almost bordering on paranoid delusions. Whereas book-verse Daisy seemed a little more… well-balanced. However, this inner anger serves as Daisy’s determination to get back home. I thought it played well on screen, as I was a bit skeptical as how they were going to portray Daisy’s longing for Edmond.

Also, movie-verse Edmond is a total babe. Kind of gives off a Rupert Grint vibe, but good lord, I was already fanning myself when he made his first majestic appearance with that eagle/hawk thing on his arm.

Wasn’t joking, now was I.

Maybe it was just because my heart was invested in these characters from the get-go, but watching the movie was like an emotional roller coaster that kept punching me in the heart with a chainsaw. My heart soared when Edmond and Daisy first kissed, and my stomach plunged when the kids were split up. I was actually exhausted when I finished the movie.

Sure, it’s not as poetic as the book is (and what movie really is), but it’s still a fantastic film. They did take liberties with the plot, but paid homage to the details in return. Though I’m a relatively new fan, I appreciated what they did. The acting was tremendous, beautifully directed, the music was heart wrenching, everything about it was just… such an experience. Much better than all that young adult garbage they’re pushing in Hollywood nowadays.

Warning: It’s much, much darker than the book is.

It’s an interesting take on the apocalypse genre. Seen through the eyes of children, and realistically how they would fare in a world that’s gone crazy. And though I’m not a child by any means (maybe mentally, sometimes), it really prompts you to think about what you would do if you were in a situation like this. A must read and a must watch.

– Rachel C.

One day she hopes to reach a new state of being which requires no sustenance other than alcohol and pure, unadulterated rage. Imagine the shit she’ll write then, huh?

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