Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What About The Monster?

 A Monster Calls, a novel by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd begins with an author's note.  He states that he never knew Siobhan Dowd but through her four electric young adult novels, two published in her lifetime, two after her too-early death.  This title, A Monster Calls, was a collection of ideas had by Siobhan Dowd when she lost her life to cancer.

Patrick Ness was asked to take her beginnings and fashion them into a book.  Before he knew it her thoughts were giving birth to other possibilities in the fertile ground of his author's imagination.  He continues in the author's note to say:

I felt-and feel-as if I've been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, "Go, Run with it.  Make trouble."

Patrick Ness did indeed make trouble; the kind of trouble that will linger long after the final page is turned and the final words are read.  It's the kind of trouble that alters one's character; evoking compassion, true understanding and forgiveness.

The story opens:

The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do. 

Conor, has been awakened by a recurring nightmare, a nightmare that he has shared with no one; not his mother who is ill, his father in America with his new family, his grandmother nor any of his schoolmates.  No one.  He chases thoughts of the nightmare away but he still senses a presence.  Then he hears it again, again, again, again and again---his name being called.

Gazing out his bedroom window into the night eyes drawn to the graveyard near the church on the hill with an huge yew tree as old as time at its center, Conor can see nothing out of the ordinary. Then Ness writes this:

A cloud moved in front of the moon, covering the whole landscape in darkness, and a whoosh of wind rushed down the hill and into his room, billowing the curtains.  He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again, groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.

When the cloud passes from the moon the yew tree is no longer in the graveyard but right outside Conor's window.  A monster has come, not the one from his nightmare, no this one is much worse.  He can not waken to rid himself of this monster.

Thirteen-year-old Conor's life is spinning out of control.  His father has left, as did his pet cat, his best friend has betrayed him, a bully and his two cronies haunt him each and every day at school, his teachers pity him, his grandmother, his Mom's mom, is coming to stay and his mother is undergoing treatments for her advancing cancer.  To make matters worse the next night at exactly 12:07 the monster returns.

Having gone by many names throughout history, the monster tells Conor that it was he who has made him come walking.  He has three stories to tell Conor.  Conor scoffs at the idea of stories; what can they possibly have to do with him.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said.  When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreck?

When the three stories have been told, it is Conor that must tell a fourth; his very own truth which he fears above all else.  His survival depends on this fourth story.

Horrifying in their honesty, brutal in their outcomes, the stories weave in and out of the deepening sadness of Conor's days.  Lack of understanding, by those around Conor, make him feel like a shell of his former self; he is fading into nothingness.  Dialogue between the monster and Conor and too, with the other characters, is so normal in anything but normal circumstances; it is the small bits of humor that relieve what could be unbearable sadness.

Patrick Ness takes readers into the lonely, singular landscape of loss, grief and ultimately acceptance with the sure, steady hand of a gifted wordsmith.  (Having lost my father slowly and my husband suddenly I am intimately aware of loss, grief and the presence of death.)  In A Monster Calls the truth of each character's actions, thoughts and words, including those of the monster, is a consummate connectedness that exceeds fiction venturing into the realm of absolute reality; it is that vivid.  Ness conveys Conor so well that his every feeling becomes something tangible in the reader's world; at times I sobbed uncontrollably and at others I felt strangely comforted.

Illustrations done by artist, Jim Kay, are atmospheric, eerie, and richly conceived.  To view what Ness' words were forming in my mind framing narration or displayed across single or double page layouts in such striking splendor was wonderful.  Taking time to read and meander through Kay's web site acquaints reader's with his work and insights.  This is one statement made about his work on A Monster Calls:

It was a mixture of relief printing, black pen and ink, and various printed textures, digitally pieced together. In an ideal world I would have loved to have illustrated the whole book using etching and monoprint techniques, but it would have taken a year to finish it!

He is making reference to the illustration spread across pages 6 and 7 in the book where the monster is bending over peeking into Conor's bedroom window for the first time.  It is one of my favorites along with the first time Conor sees the monster sit down.  Flawless in execution, Kay's work is the perfect enhancement to Ness' novel.
A Monster Calls is a marvelous, memorable, moving masterpiece that, I and all who read it, will add to the box of treasures stored in our hearts.

Continue reading about Patrick Ness in an article by Tim Masters, Patrick Ness:  Why I wrote A Monster Calls, at the BBC News, Entertainment & Arts page online. 

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