Friday 27 January 2012

REVIEW - 'A Monster Calls', Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2011)

Lonely thirteen-year-old Conor is going though some more dramatic-than-usual upheavals for a teenage boy. When he is awoken one night by an unexpected visitor, he begins a painful journey. But can he face up to it's conclusion?

I yanked this book from the shelf of my local library with a giddy head - I've only completed the first third of Ness's Chaos Walking Trilogy (a more about my slow-coach reasoning later), but this one book was more than enough to get me mega-excited about this offering.

Based on an idea by the Carnegie-medal-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness was asked to turn the idea into a novel after Dowd tragically died of cancer.

This book sat heavy on my heart. But in a good way, if that makes any sense whatsoever. Conor's long, often silent days of solitude, at home and at school are bleakly atomospheric. The gradual reveal of the reasons behind his suffering is skillfully done. He is not necessarily a lovable character - he is stubborn, his own worst enemy - but I just wanted to give him a great big bear hug. Probably exactly the sort of reaction that would repel him. You get the picture.

The structure builds up the tension magnificently - The arrival of the monster in the dead of the night kicks of the telling of three fables that lead up to the unveiling of Conor's own truth. The irony is, being a book filled with the most achingly beautiful monochrome illustrations, that nothing in this story is black and white. Everything serves to remind us of the complications and contradictions that are tangled up in the big decisions we have to make in life.

Ness uses his words to great effect - fully formed three dimensional characters leap from the page with just one line of dialogue. The monster, in particular, is like a prickly Dumbledore with twig fetish, if you can imagine such a thing.

One of the most important, most striking things about this book, is that it is a BOOK. 'Yes. I know' I hear you cry. 'This is a book blog, I am reading a book review, you silly mare. Of course it is a bloody book.' Now, I love my Kindle, I covert an iPad, but there is nothing like cradling a proper hardcover than relishes it's physical status. I mentioned Jim Kay's amazing illustrations earlier. They don't just compliment the story - but it would be half the book without (yes, apologies for stating the bleedin' obvious again). This aren't dainty pretty pictures by any means, but they are just perfect.

I mentioned my delay in reading the last two thirds of the Chaos Walking Trilogy. Well this also stems from beautiful book syndrome - I was fortunate enough to find a pristine hardcover copy of 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' in the second hand bookshop where I used to work. Now, I can't NOT buy equally pristine copies of the other two, but this shall have to wait until funds permit me to do so. Gosh darn it.

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