A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes
Date Published: May 5th, 2011
Publisher: Walker Books
Pages: 215 pages
Synopsis: The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.
This is a spoiler-free review.
No matter how hard I try, I am never going to be able to sufficiently capture my love for this book in words. Simply put, this novel is completely and utterly beautiful. It was not at all what I was expecting when I picked it up, but it took me completely by surprise in the best of ways. It is a novel that is intensely thought-provoking and unexpectedly haunting. Heartbreaking and deeply moving, A Monster Calls is a captivating picture of love, loss and, ultimately, hope.
In this novel, we follow a young boy named Conor, who wakes from his recurring nightmare one evening to discover a monster at his window—not the one from his nightmares, but the yew tree from the backyard. He faces it with bravery, as he has far more frightening things in his life vying for his attention. But this monster is persistent, returning to him multiple times, bringing a new story with each visit and only hoping to yield one thing. The monster knows Conor is hiding something from everyone and expects him to be the one to tell the last story, finally revealing the truth he is so desperate to avoid.
As I have said, the story ended up being far different than what I had originally been anticipating when I discovered this novel—and I am so glad that it was. It was chilling in unique and unexpected ways that had me glued to every page. The narrative is rooted in an intriguing combination of psychological and supernatural elements, while also maintaining a great deal of realism.
The plot, first and foremost, consists of the monster’s visitations and the discussions he and Conor have. Given the realistic nature of the setting and other scenes, with any other novel, a reader might be inclined to immediately dismiss these occurrences as delusions. However, the way Ness writes this aspect of the story is extremely clever—there is a great deal of believability to it. After each encounter, we are left wondering about the actuality of this monster. It is a question that adds great complexity to the plot, and haunts until the final pages.
Ness uses a seemingly paranormal experience to portray the real-life struggle that Conor is going through. He pays homage to the tangibility of grief—how, many times, grief can feel like a concrete, physical being. He also touches on the sort of surreal façade life seems to put on in the midst of pain and sadness. We get to see how a shared pain manifests in different people, demonstrating the similarities and dissimilarities in the way human beings experience and handle a common emotion.
This psychological aspect of the story is what impacted me the most. We have all faced that moment in our lives when we realize that monsters exist in our world, though not in the forms we believed them to take when we were children. We can even feel like monsters are living inside of us when pain controls our thoughts, or possibly when light is shed on the truths we try so hard to conceal. The truth can make us question our morality, our humanity. Conor is being thrust into this awareness at such a young age and this, along with the reason for it, makes the story all the more poignant.
This novel holds some of the most stellar writing that I have ever come across—Patrick Ness is a true master of the written word. His prose is full of such exceptional beauty, and flows fluidly and poetically all the way through. Everything about his writing is enormously compelling. It is simple, yet vivid, forceful, and most importantly, highly effective and engaging. I devoured every word.
Ness makes you think sincerely about your own life, the grief you have experienced and the way you dealt with it. He has a knack for evoking strong emotions and making the reader feel utterly vulnerable and completely human. He also does justice to the complexities of profound sadness with the candor of his writing, never once letting the text feel emotionally manipulative and thus taking away from the earnestness of the story. This novel touched me in a greater way than any other novel ever has.
Jim Kay’s illustrations are done to perfection, and further add a vast amount of depth and life to the narrative. They weave seamlessly with the text and assist in setting the eerie and unnerving tone. Though the palette is simple—consisting of blacks, whites, and grays—the effect it creates is anything but. The stark contrast between light and dark gives the images a penetratingly bleak feel. The surreal and sketch-like design contributes to the frightening atmosphere, particularly when the realistic is juxtaposed with the bizarre. As a whole, the end result is unbelievably powerful.
A Monster Calls is an enthralling story that packs an emotional punch and does not disappoint. This novel has become one of my favorites of all time, and has placed Patrick Ness solidly among my favorite authors as well. The plot and the characters stick with you, making this a difficult story to get off your mind when coupled with the already mentally stimulating nature of the themes and text itself.
It is a dark and incredibly heartbreaking story, but also very touching in many ways—Ness completely nails that balance. I genuinely cannot think of any issues that I had with it—it was a true five star read for me. He has created an absolute masterpiece that delves skillfully into one of the most relatable aspects of human life. If you have not picked it up yet, please do. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.