Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Published: 2 February 2012
Publisher: Walker Books
Summary: Haunting and incredibly compelling – a must-read.

Right from the foreword and first chapters of A Monster Calls, it’s clear that the novel is not so much about the tree monster pictured on the wonderful front cover, as the destructive influence of cancer: an illness that seems to touch everyone’s life at some point. The central theme is all the more pertinent as Siobhan Dowd, the author credited with the inception of A Monster Calls, tragically died from the disease long before she could finish the book.

Whilst two of Dowd’s completed novels were published posthumously (Bog Child and Solace of the Road), A Monster Calls needed a champion to see it through to publication, and so Patrick Ness, author of the award winning Chaos Walking series, agreed to take the reins and finish the work.

The book begins with Conor O’Malley, teenage son to a single mother battling cancer, awakening from a recurring nightmare to find an ancient and well-versed monster at his bedroom window. The monster eventually threatens to eat Conor alive if he doesn’t divulge the secrets of his nightmare – the details of which Conor has vowed never to tell another living soul. Crucially, though, Conor is not in the least bit frightened of his visitor.

Conor’s lack of terror might seem slightly odd, but it’s a powerful mechanism for showing just how dire the thirteen-year-old’s circumstances really are: his life is on the verge of being destroyed and the daily horror of his mother’s illness far outweighs anything the monster can threaten to do. Conor’s situation becomes even more harrowing as the development of his mother’s cancer and the effects of her chemotherapy are seen through his eyes and memories. During these intimate moments, Ness conveys the emotions involved with a suitably deft touch, and it should be noted that Conor’s thoughts infiltrate the descriptive aspect of the prose exquisitely – flavouring the lyrical text without ever saturating it.

A non-illustrated version of A Monster Calls has been released but Jim Kay’s artwork is a phenomenal addition to the book, forging a dark and moody atmosphere to accompany the excellent writing. The larger illustrations (often double-page spreads) mostly involve the monster or scenes from his stories, but this only adds to the anticipation of his arrival. Whilst it’s possible older readers might be skeptical of a fully illustrated book, it’s worth remembering that prominent authors such as Philip Pullman have been vocal about the merits of illustration, and the interplay between artwork and text here is wonderful; to put it simply, the illustrated version of A Monster Calls is unmissable.

A Monster Calls is available now

FYI

Has anyone read this book? Do you agree with the review? Let us know in the comments section below.

Jack Croxall

Jack Croxall is a science/literature writer and author living in Nottinghamshire. He tweets via @JackCroxall and you can visit his author blog by clicking the 'Website' link below.

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