A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
|Book Name:||A Monster Calls|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Young Adult|
|Release Date:||September 27, 2011|
A Monster Calls is a book that I would never have picked up. It was only because it won The Kitschies Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel that I’d even heard of it. I know the founders of The Kitschies, and with Lauren Beukes and China Miéville having won the previous two awards, I knew that it must be one of those innovative books that push a few boundaries because that is what they are renowned for rewarding. Now, I’ve been trying to broaden my reading lately, moving away a little from the traditional, Arthurian type worlds that I am used to, and explore the weirder side of the genre (Beukes and Mieville included). So yes, when I saw the beautiful cover of A Monster Calls turned out to face me in my local bookshop, to my surprise I picked it up, took it to the till and left with it in a carrier bag. That very same night, I was kept up all night by the beautiful and yet disturbing world that Patrick Ness drew me into.
A Monster Calls is certainly a children’s book. The protagonist is a young boy, Conor, who is plagued by nightmares. Nightmares so bad, in fact, that when a monster appears at this window calling his name, he is rather relieved. Compared to the nightmares, the monster isn’t really that bad, more annoying really. The monster wants Conor to tell him about his nightmare, but Conor refuses and so the monster decides he is going to keep reappearing and following Conor until he faces them.
There is far more to the book though. We find that Conor’s mother is dying of cancer and as a result, kids at school ignore him or, even worse, comfort him and ask how he is. Conor’s other family, his father and grandmother haven’t paid him much attention over the last few years, but now they keep coming round and calling him, saying things like, “We need to talk about things.” This annoys Conor, who would far prefer to be left alone with his mother. And now with the monster turning up, he is feeling very claustrophobic.
Because the book is so short, just over 200 pages with about 100-150 words per page, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into too much detail on the actual plot, but I can tell you that the story develops in such a way that you begin feeling very, very close with the character. You stand next to Conor as he struggles to accept that his mother will one day die and share his desperation in ignoring the signs that things are not going well. It is powerful stuff and at times, you will put the book down feeling very emotional because of what you’ve just experienced with Conor.
What is amazing and so impressive about this book though is that it was written for children. As an adult (I’m 25 – is that an adult?) the book greatly affected me and on reflection of the character’s life I learnt a lot and made some decisions about my own circumstances. Now, I already know about cancer and death to some extent, but I imagine that for a child this book will be groundbreaking, and quite possibly, life changing. This is not a book where we watch characters growing up as squires and becoming knights. This is a book that is set within a world that will feel very familiar.
Something I learned whilst reading the novel was that Patrick Ness had not actually come up with the idea for A Monster Calls. It was in-fact crafted by the now deceased Siobhan Dowd, who was one of the most promising children’s writers of her generation. She came up with the idea following her own diagnosis of cancer and something about knowing that makes the read all the more haunting. Patrick Ness states in the introduction that although the book is not written in Siobhan’s voice (something he thinks he could never do), it is written in her honour and this really shines through as you read the novel.
So, we’ve covered the world, the words and the inspiration, but there is one more thing I’ve neglected to mention until now and that is the artwork that runs alongside the text throughout the book. The artist, Kay, uses a rather unique style of textured pen-and-ink to create wild and ferocious black on white images. These pieces of art are very creepy and work exceptionally well, accompanying the text in order to shape the dark atmosphere and tone of the book. I know that the cover has been very highly remarked upon, but seriously, if you think that is good, you should check out what’s inside.
Overall, I think it is the extent that this book has stayed with me, and re-opened my eyes to the fact that death affects everyone at numerous points of their life, that made me appreciate the book so much. Yes, death is a scary thing to think about, but the way that Patrick Ness has addressed it for both adults and children shows that it is inevitably unavoidable.
I am sure I’ve put some people off. “Why would I want to read a book that is so depressing?” Well, much like Shakespeare’s tragedies, when you have opportunity to look on someone else’s difficult situation and compare them to your own, you leave with a fresh outlook. When literature can do that do you the author has done something special and I think that is a good word to describe Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls – Special.