Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review: Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

Huge thanks to Harriet at Random House for sending me a copy of the book to review.

In Dying to Know You, award-winning author Aidan Chambers has created an indelible portrait of a young man discovering his own voice in the world, and has constructed a love story that is as much about the mind as it is the heart. In this contemporary love story, a teenage boy named Karl enlists a famous writer to help him impress his girlfriend, Fiorella. She has asked him to write her a letter in which he reveals his true self. But Karl isn’t convinced he’s good enough with words, so he tracks down Fiorella’s favorite author and begs him to take up the task. The writer reluctantly assents, on the condition that Karl agree to a series of interviews, so that the letter will be based on an authentic portrait of Karl. The letter, though effective, has unexpected consequences for Karl, Fiorella, and the writer.

After reading Aidan Chambers collection of short stories ‘The Kissing Game’ I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect from his latest novel – but I knew that after that blurb regardless of any misgivings I might have, I was going to have to read it. The idea caught at me and I was desperate to see how Chamber handled it and played it out.

And it was truly fantastic. The writing style was very different to most novels out at the moment, comprising mostly dialogue as you would find in a script with very little description. It gives the novel a very intimate feel, it feels as though you are right inside his head, with dialogue as it plays out and thoughts and musings that help relate to the story and move it along.

At first it was quite a jolt to read a book in this style, but I quickly settled into it and actually enjoyed it – it was such a refreshing change to have such a clean pared down style of writing. But at the same time to have such elegantly simplistic and at times utterly beautiful prose – the simplicity didn’t mean that the beauty and elegance was lost.

It was a surprising book on many levels. First the writing style, but close behind was the choice of narrator. This was without a doubt a book about the coming of age of a young man, but told from the perspective of a much older man who befriends him. I loved the ‘Author’ as the narrator. It was such an intriguing choice to have this young adult book told from an older mans perspective. He listens to Karl without being judgemental or obtrusive, he’s thoughtful and wise and at moments very funny. He brings so much more insight to the story than we would otherwise gain from just watching Karl ourselves.

It’s an incredibly fascinating relationship. Friendship, almost a father and son relationship and of course the mentor and the student – although they both take turns with this as they help to teach the other how to live and grow. It’s a relationship of equality, of simplicity and overwhelming need. These two characters need each other, even if they do not necessarily realize it most of the time. I found myself utterly captivated by this simple story of a connection between two people. And such a refreshing connection! To have a relationship as the focus that isn’t life or death love and heart break. That simply shows a tenuous moment that grows into affection between two characters with no romantic notions.

The development is slow but meaningful. This is no fast paced action packed thriller, it’s a quietly understated tale of love and loss and coming of age, and above all finding out who you are within yourself. It is quiet and slow but it really packs a punch with every turn it takes. It’s a fascinating book with thoughtful and insightful characters who are all desperately trying to learn how to become comfortable within themselves – to amalgamate the past and the present and the future into a whole. The story took so many turns that I wasn’t expecting, there is so much scope and opportunity to explore the characters, to explore their relationship and the creativity and development they both embrace in order to fully find themselves. It’s an on-going journey, one that I felt we only saw a brief snapshot of, but it was an incredibly engrossing snapshot and I could have quite happily continued to see Karl and the author’s relationship develop indefinitely.

The only character that I never warmed to was Fiorella. She was obnoxious and petty and utterly irritating. I never really understood what Karl had seen in her at the start, and the more interactions we saw between her and the Author the more I disliked her. However she was key in bringing about the relationship between Karl and the Author, so I guess she gets a point there…

Quite honestly, it was not what I expected it would be. The coming of age story was emotional and beautiful. The writing was smooth and rhythmic. The characters each had a mind of their own and the story is utterly engrossing.
It was a quietly moving and breath taking novel. It came out of nowhere and completely swept me away, and I loved it. It’s a novel to be savoured and discussed and offers so many intriguing moments and characters that provide food for thought long after the final page has been turned.


  1. Oh what a fabulous review. That has just bumped that one up my list.

    1. Thank you! :) It was a completely surprising read, really recommend it.

  2. I only skimmed your review as I still have MY review of this book to write, but I LOVED this one! It completely took me by surprise..