Monday, 3 June 2013

Mortal Chaos, by Matt Dickinson

Wow.  What an impressive novel.  Some of the best types of Children's and Young Adult's books are the ones that don't go mad over exposition and explanation, that challenge their readers with complex, mind bending concepts and plots and assume a certain level of intelligence in their readers.  Those are the sort of books that become unforgettable to young readers and demonstrate the range and power that a book can have.  It's nice to know that some authors have faith in the ability of young readers.

Mortal Chaos is an almost impossibly complex spiderweb of interconnecting micro stories.  At first the stories seem unconnected.  Random, even.  Two boys bunking off school, a pilot that's late for work, a young Japanese climber almost at the summit of Everest. It begins, fairly innoculously, with a newly emerged butterfly flapping its wings, but the series of events that are set in motion by that one moment in time reach the whole way around the world. 

Each of the short chapters gives the time and the location of the events and the reader dips in and out of each narrative thread.  The characters are not developed a great deal, the whole point really is that they're strangers- strangers to each other and to the reader.  As the plots develop, it becomes apparant that each one directly or indirectly affects most all other events.  The plots become more and more wrapped up in one another as the author begins to pull all of the threads together, cause after effect, culminating in several dramatic tragic/joyous/lucky endings.  Dickinson writes in a streightforward, journalistic style that simply presents the events of the chapter simply and clearly.  The pace of the plot and the choppiness of the chapters, switching from Malawi to Heathrow to Nepal really helps to build the tension leading up to the book's culmination.  I tried to find a story-diagram online that connected all the incidents in the book, but nobody appears to have made one.  I tried.  It is HARD.

What's great about this novel is that it makes you realilse that no one person ever has a story in its entirity.  None of the people in this book are able to see the whole picture.  One character may have a better understanding of the apparent co-incidences that have happened to her, and is thoroughly shaken by the realisation...but that's the closest any of them come.  Events that may seem unconnected in the book (and in real life, SCARY) may actually be part of a much bigger chain of events when viewed from afar, and the all-seeing perspective that the reader enjoys in this novel cannot possibly happen in real life. 

A brilliantly plotted thriller that really challenges the reader which I would recommend to anybody wanting a challenge.  It's so unlike any other YA books I've read recently that it would always be a bit of a risk to suggest, but it might jsut be the book to hook a young reader into books forever.

I leave you with this thought.  What if this is the way the world actually works?!  What if the whole of human history, every little bit of it, was the consequence of somebody somewhere, ages ago, doing something insignificant.  What if life is one massive game of Mouse Trap?!

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