A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)

**(*)

AMonsterCalls

So this was another Try Books! choice, and it was supposed to be suitable for both adults and children–at least there was a version as above on sale in the (adult) fiction section of Waterstone’s in Charing Cross.

The basic plot is that young Conor O’Malley has a mother who is dying of breast cancer and a number of other issues to contend with as well.  Then he finds himself visited at night by a monster who is also a yew tree.  That at least saves him from the unspeakable nightmare.

Unlike the rest of the group, I had serious problems with the book.  For a start, parts of it seems to be written in American, for no very good reason.

–No, sweetheart, his mother called back, weakly.  I’m kind of used to it by now. (p46)

That sounds like what my mother would have said in the circumstances, in pure Canadian.

The monster seems to be a Disney-speaking monster:

The farmer’s daughter…was beautiful and also smart…(p73)

with a fondness for Yiddish turns of phrase:

Because what she was not, was a murderer (p83)

What you think is not important.  It is only important what you do. (p225)

This could of course just be the giant as Conor expressing his anger in the kind of language he knows from Disney films, but he also gets to use a very American expression himself:

I’ve been thinking it for the longest time (p221)

Apart from those problems with the monster, I thought the whole thing was put the wrong way round.  I think that fairy tales are effective and enduring because they allow children to deal with themes like loss of a parent and their own abandonment at a safe distance, but here this was all in the plane of real life then the giant limped along to deliver some ineffective moral tales.

There were a lot of issues shoehorned in as though the book was making itself available for many children’s book prizes (which I think it did very effectively).  There was the separation of Conor’s parents and the jealous antics of the new wife and Conor being bullied at school and him not getting on with his grandmother but having to go and live with her anyway.  I thought that Conor’s persecutors would have more likely got a fearsome beating from their own parents and from the rest of the school, but never mind…

The book seemed to me to show a parent’s anger at dying and not being told the truth about it transposed to a child, and it wasn’t convincing.  What a child feels is guilt, and guilt about something stupid like stepping on the cracks between paving stones or not eating his greens that caused all of this.  And the unspeakable nightmare was just too straightforward and logical to belong to a child, or any other kind of a human being in fact…

When people asked me whether there was anything I liked about the book, I was able to reply with the scene where Lily Andrews sends Conor a note:

I’m sorry for telling everyone about your mum
I miss being your friend
Are you okay?
I see you.

Some real feeling and expressed in something believable…but only for a moment…

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