Why do we read? Why do I read? Sometimes it feels like I’m one of few who read, when I look at the people around me. Not seldom do I get those questions. Why do I read? What’s the fun of reading a book? Whenever I try to come up with a reply that will settle the issue for once and for all, I tend to find myself lost for words. How do you explain the perfect match of plot and characters? How do you explain getting lost in a world of make-believe? How do you put into words how words take you someplace else? Instead of explaining, you should give them a book and let them experience it for themselves.
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting — he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.
The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous.
It wants the truth.
Reading the blurb as it is, you might think this is quite the simple story, and you’re right, it is. But even though the plot is fairly simple and straightforward, it works on every account. The idea of the monster and the different tales he tells is a modern take on the parable, which contains a lesson for our young protagonist to learn. All the while, we follow him throughout a difficult time in his life. Illness, divorce and bullying, nothing gets sugarcoated. This whole idea is nothing new, but the addition of the monster and his stories lift this book above your average coming of age novel. Also, the straightforwardness of the plot keeps you engaged and keeps you from getting sidetracked by nifty little additions. Early on, I had an idea of where this novel was taking me, and I wasn’t wrong. This, however, didn’t diminish the reading experience. Even more so, knowing what’s going to happen and not being able to change the outcome was quite hard. Even though I approached the ending with all this in mind, nothing was able to soften the blow of the actual finale. There aren’t many books who are able to shatter my heart, but this one actually accomplished that feat. As a result,
my eyes got a little wet a sudden fog entered my room.
The main problem which might occur in a novel like this, is that the main character isn’t likeable because he or she is distant and angry. Seeing as how everything pans out from the very start, as an author, you just can’t get away with writing a character that’s jolly happy throughout the course of the book. As such, Conor is a kid who has had and still has his share of pain and disappointment in life and it makes for an angry character. These might be quite hard to like, but Patrick Ness managed to make Conor likeable, give him some appeal where you, as a reader, hardly can’t do anything but feel for him. The other characters as well, are very relatable. His grandma might not be the nicest of grandparents out there, but you can’t help feeling for her and understand where she’s coming from. Same goes for his father and don’t get me started on Conor’s mum. She might not be the direct focus of the novel, but she – in fact, all four main characters of the family – are wonderfully given form.
This novel was originally an idea by Siobhan Dowd, but completed by Patrick Ness after her death. Even though it wasn’t his idea to begin with, Patrick Ness definitely put his own spin on it and made it feel like it was a novel of his. Perhaps that’s the best thing about A Monster Calls. Ness’ writing is just spot on. Simple, but effective and evocative. Fluent, but still emotional. It cost me but two hours to go through it and I wished I could bathe a little longer in his words. From the very first page, a tribute to Siobhan, to the very last word, Ness set the tone and his words were gold throughout. While the story is simple, I found there to be more than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the story is the idea – the truth, if you like – concerning the power of words. The healing power of talking. Not only healing between two or more people, but also the healing of the individual’s psyche.
A Monster Calls was definitely an experience quite unlike any other, and when I try to compare it with other books I’ve read, it’s up there with other gems. It compares to Audrey Nifffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife in the way it managed to pull my heartstrings, to Robin Hobb for making me care about the main character and to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book for demonstrating the power of something so simple yet moving. If, instead of explaining, I could give people a book to make them understand why I read, A Monster Calls would be one of them.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Make your own appointment with the Monster today, and enjoy a great story tonight.