The monster showed up just 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... The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
A Monster Calls ~ a tall tales & short stories review
This book truly is a thing of beauty - a book to be treasured and given pride of place on any bookshelf.
I almost don't want to say anymore as the previous sentence sums up my feelings about A Monster Calls but for the purposes of reviewing I will elaborate. I hold my hands up to being a huge fan of Patrick Ness and his writing, he is a writer who has an ability to make me shed more tears than I thought possible. His Chaos Walking trilogy stays with me still and I think it is a sign of a great writer that, even as time passes and many other books are read, I still vividly remember moments from his books, and feel the same emotions and depth of feeling as when I first read the work. When a book stays with you, becomes part of you, it's special and A Monster Calls is no exception.
Where to begin? The story is based on an original idea by Siobhan Dowd who died tragically young from cancer. In the Author's Note, Patrick Ness explains how Siobhan 'had the characters, a premise, and a beginning.' The story, the book, the final package is beautifully and movingly realised by all involved - because this is a collaboration par excellence. To review this book it must be reviewed as a whole, from the idea, the writing and the illustration. (NB. I wasn't sent a review copy, I bought the hardback version, so I'm not sure if the paperback version is the same, so I'd urge anyone contemplating buying this book to seek out the hardback.)
As I often say in my reviews, I don't like spoilers, so I won't give anything away, but I think it will do no harm to say that as a reader I felt I knew how it would end and therein lies its power and what makes it particularly painful to read, but what also makes it so poignant and moving. We, the reader, are on Conor's journey, the final outcome ever present in our thoughts just as they are in his. A desire to believe that things will change, that we need hope, but always, always at the back of your mind you know... you just know the truth. And it takes just six little words, spoken by Conor at the end of the book, to break your heart.
The monster is as confusing to the reader as it is to Conor, who is it, what is it, why is it here? It is an elemental creature, wise yet destructive, and as old as the earth, with stories to tell. The monster is what we make it. The monster is in us all.
The illustrations, so wonderfully realised, are, I think, an intrinsic part of the story. Jim Kay, the illustrator, has created images of brooding darkness and menace yet at the same time beautiful and delicate, fragile and brittle, scratchy, jagged and chaotic. They seem to epitomise Conor's state of mind - they interact with the prose, the words are the pictures, the pictures are the words. Together they are a thing of dark beauty. But in that darkness, in that frightening time when there seems to be no hope, there is a light, a faint glimmer that some kind of solace will eventually be found.