Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, children’s literature
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★★
Summary: Ever since his mother fell ill, and ever since she started all the different treatments that don’t seem to have much of an effect, Conor has had the same recurring nightmare, the one with the darkness and the screaming and the intense feeling of fear. But the monster that shows up outside his window one night is something completely different. It’s a gigantic creature, a wild and ancient force of nature. The monster tells Conor he will come back at night to tell him three stories. The fourth story however, is a story the monster wants Conor to tell him instead. And this story will be the most dangerous thing the monster wants from Conor. It will be the truth.
“Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.”
– A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
Based on unfinished work by the late Siobhan Dowd, this book is a very different and unpredictable yet powerful take on loss. It’s also a book that I thought wasn’t actually going to make me cry until I got to the last few pages and found myself bawling. I cried because of what happened in the book, but I cried just as much, maybe even more so, for the emotions it stirred up in me.
My Dad died almost two years ago. It wasn’t a long-term illness, like in Conor’s Mom’s case, but rather a very sudden heart attack that he couldn’t be saved from. I was in another part of the country, away for university, so I never even got to see him or talk to him that day. That feeling of having someone wrenched away from you so completely out of the blue, with no forewarning, is something that still stays with me today. And since my Dad was the one I was closest to, losing him set me back quite a few paces. It has taken, and still takes, a lot of time and work to get back to a level where I feel like a relatively normal and functioning person. So yes, Conor is a very relatable character to me in many ways. Apart from the whole aspect of losing someone close to you, I can relate to the feeling of being completely alone, and everyone suddenly treating you differently. I can also strongly relate to all that anger Conor feels. I too was really mad in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing, and while I never expressed this violently like Conor, I could go for days on end practically seething. With that said, I think this is the most important thing I’m personally taking away from this novel. It’s perfectly okay to feel what you’re feeling, and it’s okay to be angry about having to let go of someone you love, and it’s okay not wanting to let go. It’s definitely something you have to do for your own sake, but it’s not something you must do immediately, and if it takes time then it simply takes time.
This is a beautifully and simply written novel that fits any age beyond its middle grade target group. You have a straight-forward surface story with an enormous well of conflicting emotions underneath. The novel’s richness and profoundness lies in its monster metaphor and the way this is used to teach us that right and wrong cannot always be clearly defined. It made me think of Max Porter’s “Grief is the Thing with Feathers”, as that is also another personally relatable book that uses metaphors, but while that deals with the aftermath of loss, “A Monster Calls” dives straight into all the conflicting feelings an individual struggles with when the loss is inevitable but has yet to happen. Through Conor we get to see the anger, the bullying, the loneliness, and you can’t help but deeply sympathize with him because the burden is so heavy and the responsibility is so great.
Patrick Ness has done an amazing job with Siobhan Dowd’s concept and characters. The result is a short but important and poignant book that both children and adults can learn from and maybe even find comfort in, like I did. I wholeheartedly recommend this to everyone.