Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: A Monster Calls


            A Monster Calls is a novel by Patrick Ness, based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. It follows Conor O’Malley as he struggles to accept the consequences of his mother’s terminal cancer. He is often visited in the middle of the night by a monster who helps him accept the truth.

            It is important to note that Siobhan Dowd has died of cancer before she could even write the book herself. Patrick Ness has had the privilege to do it for her, borrowing her ideas and trying to copy her voice. This is the first time I’ve read something by Patrick Ness, and I haven’t read anything by Siobhan Dowd, so I’m not sure in which voice A Monster Calls has been really written. But directly copying the voice of another writer somewhat defeats the purpose of expression in writing, not to mention that an absolute copy is practically impossible. So I think A Monster Calls has been written in a voice that transcends either of the two writers.

            The book’s prose is very lyrical, but not in a way that makes it pretentiously profound. It also has a dark tone to it. The words used are simplistic and the dialogues are not formal, balancing the dark tone and making the style appropriate for children despite the gloomy undertones.

            There is a constant sense of struggle lingering between the paragraphs, because the conflicts are not presented in a direct way and let readers read between the lines to understand where that lingering sense of struggle is coming from. The prose also knows how to conceal and suspend plot elements without appearing to be intentionally delaying the events just to increase the word count.

            The structure of the story is also commendable. Aside from the constant sense of struggle, there are a lot of conflicts scattered throughout the book, to keep things turning and therefore interesting. Each chapter is less than ten pages, so those with short attention spans will have no problem leafing through the book. Each chapter also ends in a somewhat poetic way that will make the readers jump to the next chapter. The almost instant gratification from the short chapters actually makes this book easy to read in one to two sessions.

            The characters of the book are usual archetypes. We have the loner boy, the gentle mother, the somewhat irresponsible father, the grandmother with a strong personality, the bully, and the lone friend. But the important thing is that they get the ideas of the book across. They are the perfect characters for such a story and message. Another commendable thing is the distinctiveness of each one’s voices, and that shows the difference in their personalities.

            As for the illustrations, I think they match the tone of the prose, if they do not set the atmosphere of the book singlehandedly. Jim Kay knows how to utilize his blacks and whites, rendering them dark yet not dark enough to be inappropriate for children. If I could compare it to anything, it is to Dave McKean’s illustrations for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

The Monster
            Overall, A Monster Calls is an amazing read. It is dark and lyrical yet suitable for all ages. It presents reality in quasi-fantastical ways that will capture both the realist and surrealist. The messages it is trying to tell also says something about the complexity of human nature, and life and death themselves. Recommended read to everyone.

            Additional note: If you want to read something similar, you can try Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. You can find my review of it here.

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