Sunday, 27 November 2011

"Stories are wild creatures."

A monster calls
A novel by Patrick Ness
From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd

"Stories are wild creatures, the monster said.  When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"

 A haunting, powerful allegory, a transcendent, mythic tale.  How do I begin to talk about this remarkable book? While intended as a story for young adults or children, it is more than that, it is a story for all ages and all degrees of experience, because it speaks a truth.  And truth is a great and powerful thing, sometimes more frightening than a great and powerful monster,  it must be told or like a monster in it's suppression it can destroy. This is a truly remarkable work, it deals with death, and fear, grief and anger and something a bit more.  It confronts guilt and self loathing and the importance of being honest with ourselves and forgiveness.  It drags forth an intense emotional response from the reader and it is simply beautiful.  Beautiful in the simple, yet poetic prose and beautiful in the equally evocative illustrations by Jim Kay that accompany the text.

This short novel tells the story of Connor, a boy whose Mum is fighting cancer, his Dad has moved to another country and started a new family and the school bully has sensed his vulnerability and made him a target.  Connor's life is dark, but the adults don't see just how dark. Then into the darkness and Connor's nightmare comes a monster. A monster that sees and knows truth, he demands that Conor also confront the truth. He tells Conor three stories, fairy tale like tales and demands that Conor tell the fourth story, his story. The stories the monster tells subvert expectations and illustrate that things are not black and white but shades of grey, much like the beautiful illustrations the accompany the text. There is anger and violence in this story but there is also redemption.

Connor's monster takes the form of a walking yew tree, a rich and fitting symbol, given the yews long association with death and renewal.  In such a monster Ness taps into the long traditions of folklore, evoking such potent symbols as the Green Man and Herne the hunter.  This is a rich and rewarding text, that taps into the primal and universal.  The story of Siobhan Dowd's untimely death from cancer is well known, this remarkable book, written from an idea she had, but because of her illness lacked the time to complete, just further illustrates what a loss to young adult literature her passing was.  Patrick Ness has done what must always be difficult for any author and taken another's idea and created a fitting tribute to their memory.

Ness has proved himself a remarkable writer and while this is the first book of his I have read, it won't be the last.  The Chaos walking trilogy by Ness has been on my radar for some time and now perhaps the time has come for me to seek out more work by this great author.  I plan to read the first of the chaos walking novels;  The knife of never letting go, in the near future. Below I have added the book trailer for this great novel, as a trailer it is a wonderful work of art in it's own right.  A monster calls is a powerful and haunting book.

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