If you have not come across any of Ness’ books before, or are wondering which to start with, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of More Than This.
The book’s blurb says that Ness’ book is ‘one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time’. The plot which Ness has crafted is so interesting, and is sure to entice readers everywhere: “A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked, bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange, deserted place?” The novel begins in the following way: ‘Here is the boy, drowning… He is strong, and young, nearly seventeen, but the wintry waves keep coming, each one seemingly larger than the last. They spin him round, topple him over, force him deeper down and down’. The boy is in the sea, a victim of the current, and is ‘just slightly too far from shore to make it back’.
The present tense has been used throughout, and this is a wonderful tool for placing the reader right at the point of action. The pace is perfect with regard to the unfolding of events, and it constantly feels as though we are right beside the boy. The personification of objects has also been used within the novel, and the landscapes which the boy – whom we later learn is named Seth – lives within are treated by Ness as important characters. Indeed, without them, the levels of foreboding which fill More Than This could feel flat, and may not work as well as they currently do. The sea, for example, is given a violent character, and Ness describes the way in which it plays a game with the boy’s body as he drowns. He utilises this technique further when he gives objects human characteristics, or describes them in ways which are surprising to the reader – the rocks are ‘killingly hard’, oblivion is ‘purgatorial and grey’, the boy’s eyes are ‘muddled and foggy’ and ‘the dark freezing grey of the sky overhead… would never have let him survive a night out in it’.
Seth wakes in a place which is unfamiliar to him at first, dressed in ‘strips of white cloth that barely fit the name trousers or shirt‘. This place is utterly deserted: ‘There are cars parked along the road, but they’re covered in thick layers of dust and dirt, blinding every window… Nothing is moving… There are no trains. And no people’. Ness goes on to say that ‘… there’s no buzz of insects either, no calls of birds, not even any wind through the foliage’. On further inspection, Seth realises that the house in front of which he wakes is the one in which his family used to live in London before they moved to America, following an event which shook Seth’s childhood: ‘The house his mother swore she never wanted to see again. The house they moved across an ocean and a continent to get away from… He knows where he is now. He knows why it would be this place, knows why he would wake up here, after – After he died’.
The world which Ness has created – familiar and yet alien to the reader – is described so well that the entirety is wonderfully evoked. All of the details which are woven in converge to make the reader wonder what on earth has happened, and how it has come to be.
Alongside the present day narrative, we are able to read about Seth’s past, and the events which conspired against him and caused him to die. There is much darkness in his family – a hinted at accident has changed his younger brother, his father is on anti-depressants and has been for some time, and his mother appears to hate him. After each of these vignettes, which appear as flashbacks to Seth, we learn a little more about him as he simultaneously learns about himself. These fragments help him to piece his life back together. He believes that he is living through his memories again for good reason.
Aesthetically, More Than This is beautiful. The black and white hardback cover, which even has the shape of a door cut out of it, opens to reveal a vivid yellow frontispiece. It is sure to entice when viewed in a bookshop.
More Than This is full of intrigue, and this grows as the novel progresses. Our protagonist learns about himself anew, and sees how the decisions which he makes have the ability to alter his entire life. Ness’ structure works well, and his plot is really very clever. Each and every one of the characters is well developed, and the whole book is so thought-provoking. It is a must read for every fan of dystopian fiction, and it is also sure to appeal to those who merely want to read a great contemporary novel from one of the most interesting and consistently good authors who is being published today.