Dying to Know You
by Aidan Chambers
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. (From Amazon)
First the story. The story line is compelling and the writing is subtly beautiful. At first you just want to know, what is so great about this Fiorella that makes this plumber Karl, who obviously has a lot inside of him, seek out her favorite author and ask for his help. And the author agrees. On condition. Karl is a hard character to get to know, to both the author and to us. He doesn't like to give anything away, only what is asked for, but Fiorella has a huge list of questions she wants him to write in letters to him. She is basically demanding that he reveal himself to her in letters, love letters, so that she knows all about him. Karl is a quiet man, only 18, but already has a trade and we learn more about him in the silences than we do in the conversations he has with the author.
The story is told through the author's point of view and his observations may or may not bias us towards certain people. But he does give us a lot of insight into the other characters in the novel and himself. He is clever in seeking the answers to the questions Fiorella has asked and good at writing the letters in a way that it sounds like Karl would have written them.
The pace is kind of slow, but this wouldn't be a story you could rush. It's like the unfolding of a map as Karl, with the help of the author, Fiorella, his mother and others slowly learns who he is and isn't. The author and Karl have much in common, the loss of someone dear to them, depression, doubts about who they are and what they are doing in life. But the author has the luxury of experience, so he has answers. But he doesn't want to feed them to Karl, he wants Karl to discover them on his own, learn from his mistakes. Whenever the author starts in on something about himself, he writes, "but that has nothing to do with Karl's story," and leaves off anything about himself. So we don't know too much about the author and yet we do by knowing Karl.
It's not an exciting story, but a slow enjoyable story about Karl discovering himself. It gave me pause to think many times and I smiled many times as I read. I love the relationships Karl formed with the author and the one he had with his mother and his boss, who had been his father's best friend. I absolutely hated Fiorella! She was not deserving of Karl and even though we don't see much of her, we read about her a lot and she's just shallow and cruel. The fact that she demands these letters alone was a sure sign that I wouldn't like her.
The ending is so unexpected and warranted that I was sorry it was over. But I was left with a feeling of peace and contentment, that it was the right way to end it. I realized that it was the way I felt throughout the novel. Peaceful and assured. I felt like the author, in the story, was guiding everything toward this particular ending and that I had just been along for the ride.
Just a note-When I say author, I mean the person narrating the story. I don't remember ever getting his name and as I thumbed through, his name wasn't ever revealed. So, the author could have been Aiden Chambers or it could have been a character in the novel. There is a reference to how hard it is to publicize books after you've written them, that writing them is the easy part. It felt like Aiden Chambers was speaking directly to us, his audience. It was very cleverly written as if it all happened to Aiden Chambers himself.
There is talk of suicide and sex in this novel so use your discretion.
I highly recommend this novel for lovers of contemporary YA fiction!