HOW I LIVE NOW
Adapted from How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Puffin, 2005)
SAOIRSE RONAN ~ Daisy
GEORGE MACKAY ~ Edmund
HARLEY BIRD ~ Piper
TOM HOLLAND ~ Isaac
ANNA CHANCELLOR ~ Aunt Penn
DANNY MCEVOY ~ Joe
What’s it about?
Daisy is sent from her home in New York where her father and his new, younger girlfriend are expecting a baby to the English countryside to live with cousins she’s never met. During a summer where she finds love and family, a war breaks out and they are dispersed across the country. Will they make it back to each other safely?
How did it hold up?
I have to admit that as soon as I saw the trailer for HOW I LIVE NOW I was nervous; it looked so, so different to the book - much more post-apocalyptic. But I put on my big girl pants and dragged my sister to the cinema with me to see one of my favourite books on the big screen.
I was right that it was more post-apocalyptic than the novel. I never imagined that level of destruction and rigor from war-torn England and I was actually quite shocked, but I do understand it. The novel is very internal; Daisy is telling her story, the story of her and Edmund and Piper and Osbert and Isaac. The war was merely a background.
Some of the poignancy and intensity of the relationships that made the novel were missing from the adaptation, I think. I missed that protective loyalty between Daisy and Piper and without the long, languorous summer in which Daisy and Edmund fell in love, I think that Daisy’s journey and determination to get back to him was a little lost. That’s not to say that I didn’t tear up several times, of course... I guess the beginning was just a little fast, a little rushed, to get to the action and adventure.
One of the things that surprised me most about HOW I LIVE NOW was how Kevin McDonald managed to keep some of the feel of Meg Rosoff’s prose in the film. The novel is more stream of consciousness that anything; run on thoughts and minimal structure and punctuation. The way that Daisy’s thoughts were presented were fantastic – a jumbled, murmuring explosion of rules and fears and worries. The level of language was also kept in which I was surprised about. There’s quite a lot of swearing in the film, they even bring out The Big C at one point, and I was so glad. With such desperate anger and fear and hopelessness comes swearing for most people so I’m glad it was rated a 15 and kept in.
Saoirse Ronan delivered Daisy’s character to a tee. She’s a difficult character, who’s brash, sarcastic and rather damaged, and yet she’s endlessly loyal and loves whole-heartedly and you can’t help but be on her side. Ronan nailed the balance. I was really, really impressed as I thought it would be difficult to make her likable without compromising Daisy. She and Edmund fit well together. He was a mix of the Edmund and the Isaac from the novel with the combination of being soft, quiet, and thoughtful and having an affinity for animals. I actually really liked it. I was a bit miffed about the elimination of Osbert and the appearance of a neighbour caked Joe though. I just can’t figure out why that decision was made, even if it really didn’t have much of an impact to the story. Edmund’s mind reading was really subtly portrayed and I liked that a lot, but I also think that it also could have made the ending a little strange for people who haven’t read the novel as they won’t understand quite how much Edmund would have experience in his fight to return home.
Everything that was changed for the adaptation worked for me. Things such as the change of pace, merging of characters and elimination of some and alterations in plot were for the good of the film. It stayed true to Daisy and mostly to the world that Rosoff created and I think that a straight adaptation wouldn’t have been as enjoyable for viewers who haven’t read the book whereas this will. It’s tense, fast-paced, shocking and emotional and ou really can’t ask for more than that from a film, can you?
Book or film?
Always the book when it comes to How I Live Now. It’s one of my favourite books in the world, though the film is excellent and a great interpretation.