Quote of the book: ‘Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’
The basic idea of ‘A Monster Calls’ is enough to tug at the heartstrings by itself. Patrick Ness’ story begins with an idea by fellow author Siobhán O’Dowd, who sadly died of cancer before writing about it herself. In Patrick Ness’ opening note, he does not profess to be a great friend of Siobhán O’Dowd, he even clarifies that he never actually met her. But, he expresses a huge respect for an author that he got to know ‘through her superb books.’ Ness also recalls his original ambition when handed this project. He would not try to mimic O’Dowd’s voice; instead he would take her ideas and let them organically grow into his own. Then, he would try to get them down on paper in the form of a novel that O’Dowd herself would have liked to read. The result is a novel of powerful emotional intensity that is a worthy legacy to both authors’ creative talents.
From the off, it must be stated that it is not just the talents of Siobhán O’Dowd and Patrick Ness that make this book a success. Illustrator Jim Kay is another huge contributor to this novel. His iconic front page image is but one sample of the menacing imagery that he scatters throughout the pages of this book. It was this image that initially grabbed my attention and drew me into the story. His illustrations perfectly match the feelings of black despair, teenage angst and terror that exude from Ness’ neat prose.
The story tells us about Conor who suffers the same recurring nightmare at 12.07 each night whereby he is visited by a tree-like monster that invades his mind. It is not the threat of physical pain that Conor fears, it is the monster’s knowledge and access to the very core of what he is afraid of. Conor has pushed a certain fear deep down inside himself and this ancient creature seems to want to push him towards it. The monster does this by using three very different stories.
In reality, Conor endures a different type of nightmare. His mum is very sick, his dad lives in America with his new family, his granny threatens to take over everything and at school he is relentlessly bullied. Only his friend Lily offers any kind of light, yet even so Conor is so angry and frustrated by his lot that he pushes her away completely. He is all alone in the world and it seems like everything is falling apart and there is nothing that he can do about it.
Without giving too much away, this book takes Conor and the reader to some very dark places. The monster that calls forces Conor to confront a darkness that resides deep within all of us. What Ness does is infuse this serious content with light humour and heartwarming moments to ensure the story does not become too cold. That’s not to say there is a fairytale ending. As the monster teaches us, ‘many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving.’ When you reach the final page, it all makes sense and you leave a story behind that will stay with you forever.
Would I recommend this book to a friend?
This is a book that everyone should read to fully understand what it is like to endure a serious illness within a family. It is a coming-of-age book like no other and packs a powerful emotional punch that will leave you gasping for air long after the final page. As always, the film has a lot to live up to!