Friday, 6 December 2013

More Than This, by Patrick Ness

I don't recall seeing a cover that sums
up the themes and style of a book as
efficiently and as effectively as this.
It's a transition, and it's walking a line
between two worlds.
Where do I start?  Where can I possibly start in explaining to anybody what an astounding piece of writing this is?  More than that, how can I do so without giving away any of the pieces of such a beautiful, intricate puzzle?  It's 2013.  People should have stopped being surprised at the emotional depth of Young Adult literature. The public will be aware that there are unimaginable levels of sophistication to all types of fiction, all kinds of themes and a multitude of ways to handle those themes.  More Than This is an absolute beacon of warmth, humanity for ANY fiction, not just YA fiction. There are no words.  But here are some words that will attempt it.

The story starts with a death.  Somewhere, cold and alone, a boy drowns in a turbulent sea.  We know he is dead, and he knows he is dead- his spinal chord unambiguously severed.  He- Seth, as it turns out, is as surprised as anybody when he regains consciousness outside his childhood home.  Thirsty, naked, and a bit unsteady on his feet- but certainly not dead.  Waking up to a dusty, deserted, but achingly familiar World, Seth has to work out where he is- Hell? Purgatory? The Afterlife? and how he came be there so alone.

Partick Ness so so skillfully drip feeds both the characters and the reader information, slowly layering up a picture of a life that ended in such a violent death.  As Seth gathers more information from his surroundings, memories and horribly vivid dreams, his past becomes revealed and memories begin to emerge- some intensely private, some buried so deeply as to be almost impossible to recall.  As the gaps are filled in for the reader and for Seth, his theories about the World in which he finds himself change and his understanding of himself and his life is blown apart. From the reader's perspective, you find things out, you think you know where the plot is going, you're pretty bloody pleased with yourself for working it out and then...what's that? It's another insane plot twist that will flip your stomach and blow your mind.  Ness weaves in and out of the past and the present, showing that we can walk a line between two worlds quite easily, withholding key pieces of information until the most essential moment, backtracking and sidestepping and ever so slowly unraveling the scrambled mass of plot strands.

This book really captures what it is to be a teenager disappointed with one's lot in life (so far).  There's a harmless self-centered-ness, an intense anxiety (and inability to believe that the suffocating anguish of being a teenager is temporary) and the fear of the dawning realisation that this might be it.  This might be as good as it gets, and that's pretty crushing.  Most teenagers feel misunderstood and alone at some point, and Ness really brings those feelings across brilliantly.  The book forces you to ask what is it that matters in life.  Is it knowing?  Is it feeling or loving or being satisfied that everything you are is real?  Or is it just being happy, however that is achieved?  

There are more things I would like to talk about- the reason for Seth's crushing guilt, the things he has to hide, the things he longs for and his pretty terrible family life, but the elements of this novel fit together so beautifully and so thrillingly that I don't want to reveal too much.  I enjoyed the breathless pace and the importance of these discoveries as they are made so much that I'd hate to take that away from anyone.

Such a beautifully written, insanely original and tightly plotted novel.  Written with the same tenderness and profound understanding of human nature, loss and pain that is a bit of a hallmark of a Ness novel, More Than This is pretty staggering.  It's a novel of afterwards: Afterlife, aftermath, after love and after loss and after everything.  It's being at the end and being ready for it.

I'd recommend this to people that want something more than the average dystopian future narrative, and to the technologically minded.  It would also be a great read for Video Game fans and seeing as it deals with a lot of "issues" (immigration, LGBT, domestic violence, bullying, berevement) there's a lot of ways in...

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