Friday, May 11, 2012

Facing a monster within

Every once in awhile there comes a book that is extraordinary. This is one of those.

 Even the story of how it became a story is extraordinary. After the untimely death of author Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness was asked if he would write a book from a framework she'd begun. In a note at the front of A MONSTER CALLS, Ness writes:"I felt-and feel-as if I've been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, 'Go, Run with it. Make trouble.' So that's what I tried to do."

 Then there is the opening: "The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do." Right away, I'm invested. The story takes off from there as a boy, whose home life is sad and on the brink of catastrophe, discovers his particular monster leaves calling cards and gets him in trouble.

The black-and-white illustrations by Jim Kay are gorgeous and disturbingly frightful. And, for me, they have the added bonus of being a form of the Green Man, a mythical being that fascinates me. (Snippet: "Every time the monster moved,Conor could hear the creak of wood, groaning and yawning...")

I might classify this as magical realism since the story is set in contemporary times and is about cancer, loss and love, not mythic realms.

The monster tells Conor stories, but they have endings he doesn't expect or like. The strongest element of this tale is the ways we hide the truth from ourselves, how we let our minds trick us, how we refuse to see, and what it costs to admit the truth when it is terrible and leaves us gutted. That is what the monster has come to help Conor face.

The final pages made me cry. And cry some more.

18 comments:

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks so much for reviewing this. I have been interested but haven't had a chance to read it.

Sounds like I better get some tissues!

Liza said...

This sounds intense...and wonderful.

Tricia...hope your weekend goes OK. Thinking of you as you make your way through this "first."

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow. Sounds so powerful. I'd better not read it at night or I'll never sleep!

The Golden Eagle said...

Patrick Ness? I loved his Chaos Walking Trilogy--I'll have to check out this book!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Wow, what an interesting metaphor about the baton, but totally apt.

This seems like one that would keep me up at night, listening to the house creak!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tere: Yes, I didn't realize what it was going to be about, and it really hit me hard. So worth reading.

Liza: Intense is a good description, but also haunting.
Thanks for thinking of me. I'm doing pretty well, thank you.

Jemi: Yeah, I had to think about when I wanted to read, knowing it was getting scary and sad.

Eagle: He is such an amazing writer. I think you will find this riveting.

Stephanie: It is a great metaphor for what he undertook. I would find it daunting to step into another writer's shoes for a story of this magnitude.

Donna said...

Sounds wonderful. Thanks

Yvonne Osborne said...

What a great review. You've made me want to read it, as a good reviewer should. There are many different kinds of monsters.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks, Donna.

Yvonne: wow, that comment makes me feel great. I'm glad you want to read it.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Hmmm. I'm not a fan of books half-written by one author and finished by another (like "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," or Sebastian Faulks trying to imitate Ian Fleming!) but I must say that your review has convinced me to give this one a try. I hope it's available in eBook, will pop over to Amazon to search.
Judy, South Africa

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Judy: It wasn't half-written. Rather, there was a framework of concept and characters. As far as I can tell, Ness wrote his own story. I hope you find it and like it.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Wow, this sounds amazing and intense. Thank you, thank you--I had not heard about this one and now I definitely want to read it.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Cynthia: Intense, yes, and I do hope you enjoy it!

Phoenix said...

Wow, just your review alone almost made me cry. It sounds like you were really affected by this book. I'm definitely going to check it out - thanks for posting about it.

Hope all is well in your world.

Faith Pray said...

Oh, wow. That is a Significant first line. I love it! Thanks for the review!

Sarah Laurence said...

I've heard so many good things about this book. The story behind completing the story is very moving.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Phoenix: I do hope you find it moving, too. Thank you so much.

Faith: I know! That line is simple but really says a lot.

Sarah: I didn't know going in what to expect and was bowled over.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I thought the writing was brilliant in this story. I didn't quite think it was as sad as everyone said, but it was very touching! Great story.