After two rather disappointing reads, I desperately wanted to read something which I knew I would very much enjoy. Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls is one of the few books which I’ve seen no negative criticism whatsoever about, and it seemed like the perfect thing to choose.
A Monster Calls tells the story of a young boy named Conor O’Malley, whose mother is in the awful throes of chemotherapy, and whose father lives in the United States with his new wife and baby daughter. A monster begins to visit Conor every night – a monster which looks to him suspiciously like the old yew tree in his garden – at precisely the same time.
The monster informs the boy that it wants to tell him “three stories. Three tales from when I walked before.” The intertwined stories which ensue gave the entirety a fairytale-esque feel. I was reminded somewhat of The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, one of my firm favourites. A Monster Calls has the same unsettling darkness, and a similar scope of power which will leave the reader reeling in a sense of awe. I loved the way in which Ness challenged beliefs with the monster’s stories, as Hughes does in The Iron Man.
The characters are very well developed, and whilst Conor is clearly the protagonist of the piece, we also learn an awful lot of those around him – his parents, his grandmother, teachers at his school and his peers. I liked how Ness illustrated the way in which Conor had become so headstrong and independent as a result of his mother’s illness. The circumstances of his situation were heartbreakingly sad, of course, but I somehow had more sympathy for him because he was endeavouring to cope as best he could with everything which was thrown so cruelly at him, and the way in which he was acting as the man of the house, which I imagine is difficult enough for adults, let alone thirteen year olds.
A Monster Calls has been beautifully written. It is both simple and poetic in its prose, and in this way, a haunting tone has been added throughout. The elements of magical realism within the text work marvellously.
Aesthetically, the book is a beautiful one – a work of art, almost. Each page is utterly glorious. The multi tonal black and white illustrations accompany the text wonderfully. They conjure up the darkness from which Conor is unable to escape. I loved the way in which the illustrations and words merged together, often overlapping.
I did not adore A Monster Calls, but I found it rather a powerful novel which preyed upon my mind for weeks afterwards. I am now eager to read more of Dowd’s books (Dowd, who sadly died of cancer herself before she could even begin writing A Monster Calls, came up with the original idea) and Ness’ further offerings.