Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay

The deserving winner of the double award last year (the CILIP Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway) A Monster Calls is a beautifully tragic fairytale about the worst thing in the world.  It's about loss and strength and coming to terms with tragedy, being allowed to make bad decisions and dealing with life's trials in your own time and in you own way.

Conor lives in the house that he has always lived in with his mother, who is suffering from quite advanced Cancer. This is made clear quite early on. She has tried lots of different treatments but so far none have been very effective. Conor's dad lives in America with his new wife and new baby and the only other family mentioned is Conor's formidable and very un-Granny-ish Grandmother.

One night Conor is visited by a monster, but it's not the monster that he's been expecting- the one that haunts him at night in his recurring nightmare.  This monster that's appeared in the garden (who spends most of his time being an ancient Yew Tree) thinks he can help him with his stories, but Conor's not so sure.  There's not really anything that can help him with what he's going through- bullying, loneliness, his mother's horrible illness, the sympathetic looks, his dad's apparent disinterest in him...

A beautiful story that emphasises the fact that sometimes it's harder than anything else in the world to tell yourself the truth.  It's easier to bury your head in the sand and hum than it is to face up to reality.  Conor, learning this lesson at a horribly young age, needs to accept what's happening to his family before he can even start to understand and get over it- he's a bottler and the monster needs to teach him not to be.

The illustrations in this novel are incredible and add a huge amount to the story- more inky shades of black and grey than anybody knew existed and  textures that add so much menace and atmosphere to the story.  They communicate so well the simultaneous vagueness and the pointless detail that people remember about rooms and locations in which they have horrible news broken to them.  The reader can understand the anger and the fear that is beginning to drown Conor through the changing tone of the artwork.  I can't even begin to imagine how much labour went into the artwork- absolutely stunning.

I think it's fairly well established what an excellent book this is- it is absolutely impossible to dislike it. It's affecting, sensitive without being sentimental and it's incredibly realistic- the ending is devastating and is absolutely brutal in its realism,.  Whether you believe that the Monster is real or is part of Conor's dazed and dreamlike existence, his message cannot be disputed- there's only so long you can lie to yourself. 

You can hear author Partick Ness talking about A Monster Calls on this Podcast from the Guardian.

No comments:

Post a Comment