Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Monster Calls - Under the Microscope

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This is a gorgeous book -- and gorgeous in many ways.

First, if you're a lover of books, of books as physical things, of books as artwork in paper and glue and ink, this might be for you. This is a beautifully crafted book. It's heavy, and has a firm weight about it, a solidity and presence. It's here. It can't be ignored. Much like the monster in the story. And the book has fine paper, a gloss that somehow has a matted feel and appearance. The layout and design is perfect, the cover is stunning, and the artwork that fills it is just as good. The shadowed wonder and menace of the art perfectly suits the story.

It even has as apt epigraph: You're only young once, they say, but doesn't it go on for a long time? More than you can bear. Hilary Mantel

Yes, this book is about that, about the pain of youth and loss and fear, and how the carefree idles of childhood are often a lie. And it's about stories, about the stories that make us and shape us and change us. It is about the truth we tell in stories, and the truths we hide.

Conor's mother may be dying from cancer, but he doesn't want to think about this. Everyone at school knows and their pity follows him around. And then a monster -- something ancient and wild -- comes to call. It knows about the nightmares and it has stories to share. And it wants something from Conor: the truth.

This is a beautiful novel, elegant and spare and perfectly captured. It's advertised as a YA novel (isn't everything these days?), but it's one of those books that anyone can read. A lot of books for young people portray simple emotions simply. My favourite of such books, though, portrays complex emotions simply. I think this simple complexity is what draws in adults and yet still allows younger readers to properly experience the story. Sometimes books are just books and stories are just stories. Labels and advertising and marketing and buzz are unimportant. There is just a book, a creature of paper and ink and glue, and it is coming to call on you, reaching a dark hand in through your bedroom window.


R.S. Bohn said...

For some time now, I've been avoiding books that dwell on youth. I want to read about grown-ups, and grown-up feelings. Maybe I've been avoiding something. I think it's time for a change, and this looks like the perfect thing. Thanks for posting this.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've thought a lot about this book. What was it exactly, that stood out so much? It's a story, sure, a terrible, primal, horrifying story, but it's a human story too, and a very, very common one.

I'd lost both my parents by the time I was 30, not to cancer, but that doesn't matter, and because of that, this book was very difficult to read. Very difficult, but also beautiful, because there is a message in there, about the universal truth of the truth, and about letting go of control and resentment, and guilt and rage, and everything that makes us think we are the masters when really we are not. And when you realize that, it hurts a little less.

TL Conway said...

I waited a long time before I could read this book. When I turned the last page, I was overcome with sadness and gratitude. I am grateful Patrick Ness wrote this story and dealt head on with the guilt children feel in Connor's situation. I went through those same emotions when I was 10 and losing my father to cancer. It was a tough read, but I am so glad to have finished it.

Marsha Sigman said...

This may be one of my favorite books of all time. It was beautiful and haunting and all those things you said.ha

I recommend it to everyone but with a warning. You will cry.

Steve Abernathy said...

It's from Candlewick. Not surprised by the superior quality.