Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness **Review**

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Series: None
Pages: 216
Publisher: Walker Books
Release date: 2nd February 2012
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

Goodreads synopsis:
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.
I have to admit that, when I decided to pick this book up to read, I didn't quite know what to expect from it - I'd just been told that it was a good read, and that I should try it. What the book ended up being was far from whatever I had expected, though, but this was definitely in a good way!
My first impression of it was that it looked quite different from anything else I'd come across - physically. It's beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay, who definitely captured the book's essence in the images. In particular, the images that fill an entire two pages on their own are stunning - they're both really emotive, but at the same time, really atmospheric and gritty, which definitely captures the feel of the story. I know that we shouldn't judge a book by illustrations, but in this case, I think they are the cherry on top of the cake, and what perfects this unique story.

As for the story, as I've already said, it absolutely wasn't what I expected from it. I had originally not known too much about the book, other than that I'd been told I should read it. I actually picked it up as my Halloween read for this year, but as those that have read it will know, it doesn't turn out to be that kind of book at all. Far from it, in fact.
It starts off as I had expected it to, with a young boy, Conor, awaking from a nightmare, to find a real, live monster standing in his garden, speaking to him. The monster is enormous and grotesque, as you'd expect it to be, being a creature straight out of a nightmare. We soon realise though, that this is not going to be a 'conventional' relationship between monster and boy. We expect Conor to be terrified of the monster that dwarfs his house, but he's not, which is really interesting to me. I immediately wondered what could possibly have happened to this boy, to make him so unafraid of something that I would be terrified of.
The first line just adds to this; "The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do." Although this isn't technically Conor speaking, I immediately picked up on the fact that he wasn't concerned about the monster's presence, so I was already asking questions, and because of this, I was immediately gripped.
The monster's character was something that intrigued me, because although Conor sees him, no one else seems to, so we're not really sure if he's just a part of Conor, or if he's really there. Sometimes it seems as though he's just an imagination - something there for Conor to talk to - but then other times, like when he finds his room covered in pine needles, it seems that the monster is real. I loved the mystery of this.
Another reason that the monster was so interesting was because I expected it to be a violent, cruel creature, but it turned out to be quite different to this. Even if the rest of the story hadn't been amazing, I would have wanted to read until the end, to find out what exactly the monster was, and why he was there.

The first chapter was really the only one that matched my expectations of the book - after that it changed into something totally unexpected, but equally as welcomed. It wasn't frightening (in a 'horror' kind of way, anyway), mostly, I think, because of Conor's attitude towards the monster. He still didn't view it as a threat, because it 'wasn't as bad as the nightmare'. But in another sense it was frightening, but in much more of a 'real' way than you'd expect. I thought it was going to be the monster that would be the frightening thing, but it was Conor's own situation, and the inevitability of what it turned out he was facing, that was the scariest thing, and what made it worse is that it's a fear that each and every one of us faces. That's all I can say about that, though.
However, this was not what made the book so special for me. What made it so special was how emotionally moving it turned out to be, by the end. I think the final 30 pages were the most emotional that I've read in quite a while - I cried all the way through this final part, which is something I hadn't thought I'd do at all, when I first picked the book up. I think the fact that it did move me to tears, perfectly illustrates just how incredible this book is, and how easily you can become emotionally attached to Conor, his story, and the characters around him.

I also loved the style in which the story was told. It felt almost like a children's fairy tale to me (almost, but somehow not quite), especially when the monster begins to tell Conor the three stories of past people who have made him 'come walking'. These stories have morals to them, as a fairy tale does (albeit not quite straight forward morals), and the monster believes that these will help Conor learn what it is that he needs. It also tells him that by the end, Conor will tell his story - the story of his nightmare - and therefore his 'truth'. This isn't revealed until the very end, and is definitely a part of what makes the ending so emotional!
I was drawn into the story immediately, and remained utterly gripped by it all the way through.

I would definitely say that A Monster Calls is one of the books that everyone needs to pick up and read. I saw a quote from a review by the Independent Newspaper, which said that the book is "brave and beautiful", and this is something that I wholeheartedly agree with. It's definitely like no other book I've ever encountered, and I absolutely adored it!


Alex @ alex's bookish blog said...

Great review. I have been wanting to read this one for ages. I have read so many reviews on this and each person ha said they didn't know what the expect. Love the fact that it seems so emotional and and how it is written like a fairy tale.

Glad you enjoyed it! :)

Pen to Paper said...

Alex, I urge you to pick it up! I'm so glad I eventually listened to all the people telling me to do so. It wasn't what I expected, no - it was much, much better!! :)

Jenny said...

I loved this book! I'd originally borrowed it from the library, but then had to buy a copy for myself because it was so good. I got Patrick to sign my copy too. This is one of those special kinds of books and I plan on having my kids read it as they get older. Great review.

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