Friday, 23 March 2018

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness Review

Conor’s got quite the chipper existence: his ma is dying, his da lives in America with his new family, he’ll probably wind up living with his hated grandma and he’s getting bullied at school. As if that wasn’t bad enough he begins to be visited every night at seven minutes past midnight by a monster who’s going to tell him three stories. After that, Conor’s got to tell the monster one - a true story, about something that Conor’s been avoiding. This book is also based on an idea by author Siobhan Dowd who died of breast cancer before being able to realise it so Patrick Ness stepped in to write it. Cripes. Don’t read A Monster Calls if you’re looking for a pick-me-up! 

All joking aside, I get why people really like this novel. Obviously it hurts when we lose loved ones and I imagine it’d be much worse as a kid to say goodbye to a parent. It is a moving story of dealing with loss and what that experience is like when the person who’s dying is slowly slipping away through long-term illness. Everyone can identify with the book’s themes and Ness’s portrayal of that harrowing ordeal here is touching and thoughtful. 

That said, I didn’t enjoy A Monster Calls as much because I’ve read too many books that have a similar premise. Not just coming-of-age stories or stories dealing with trauma or death but specifically the “monster as metaphor”-type story. Both David Almond and Dave McKean’s The Savage and Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s I Kill Giants are nearly identical to A Monster Calls in concept and do the same story better. Also, both predate this book so Dowd/Ness’s concept feels unoriginal and derivative. 

In fact I found myself easily distracted from the less-than-compelling story thinking of similar books I’d read to this. Besides the ones mentioned above, I remembered Johnny Hicklenton’s 100 Months, Jeremy Love’s Bayou, Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies, Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters, even its titular namesake, JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, all of which have elements similar to those in this novel. 

I didn’t dislike A Monster Calls - it’s well-written, more-or-less holds the attention with a fine and important message at the end. Maybe if this was my first time encountering this kind of story I’d be more enamoured with it. As it is though, I found it to be an average example of a story that’s been done many times before much more memorably and imaginatively by more talented artists.

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