A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd.

Every now and then, a book comes along. One that not only takes your breath away, but also one that triggers such an emotional connection that you know with certainty that this story will be with your for life. It happens so rarely, that these stories should be cherished and passed on to others. This is what happened with A Monster Calls, and it’s a book so beautiful and so perfect, that I’ll be telling people about it for the rest of my life…

A Monster Calls, beautiful right from the jacket.

Conor O’Malley has nightmares. Most every night, and they’re always the same. Not now though, not at 12:07 when the Monster comes walking, to talk with him through his bedroom window. This dream is different, and altogether much too real. When Conor awakes in the mornings, his room is filled with leaves and berries, a reminder that this Monster is not a nightmare, and it has something very important to tell Conor, and it won’t be ignored. During the day, Conor lives with his mother, who is undergoing treatment for cancer. His father lives with his new family in America, and Conor spends his time drifting through school and caring for his sickly mother. When his mum goes into hospital, he has to live with his Grandmother, and his behaviour at school begins to dwindle. The Monster comes walking, taking the form of the mighty Yew Tree from behind Conor’s house. When the Monster comes, it comes to tell a story, to teach Conor something valuable, and once it has told him three stories, it wants to hear his truth, and that is something Conor dreads in the very core of his stomach. His friends have abandoned him, his Mum is hopelessly out of his control, and Conor feels more isolated and alone than he can handle. Only his nights spent with the Monster are the only thing different, even though he knows where it will end…

Patrick Ness worked on A Monster Calls as a original idea by Siobhan Dowd, who tragically passed away from cancer in 2007, lovingly bringing the ideas to life with the help of illustrator Jim Kay. I think before I go onto to having a look at the story and it’s themes, I’m going to have to mention Jim Kay’s illustrations, because without them this book wouldn’t feel finished. They’re as much a part of the story as the words themselves, and quite frankly, they’re something truly beautiful to be celebrated as an work of art, like the combination of art and story that Brian Selznick produces…

An example of this novel's unforgettable artwork.

As you can see, the art is dark, full of foreboding, and fits in with the story like a perfect jigsaw. Each image is full of melancholy and isolation, which pulls the feelings of Conor into a visual medium, which amplifies him by huge magnitudes.

Now for the story. Oh wow, I mean… Just wow. I’ve had some trouble thinking about how I can describe this book, so I think I’m just going to write as it comes out of my brain. This book is raw. It’s emotional, and it pulls absolutely no punches, and for that, I am so thankful… It tackles some of the most serious concepts surrounding terminal illness and death in a honest way that manages to be sweet, touching, and dark all at once. The psychological nature of Conor’s dreams are used as a beautifully bitter-sweet metaphor and mystery, and as he pushes them further away from his concious, the worse his ability to cope with reality becomes, and this is so heartbreaking to read, because we feel for him so strongly. The Monster is a brilliantly ambiguous character, showing genuine care and affection for Conor, as well as an impatience with his selfish attitude, and a temper combined with quite shocking violent outbursts. His stories are wonderfully truthful recollections of fairy tales, where the morals aren’t always so clean cut, and the good guy doesn’t always win in the end. But there are lessons there, and ones very close to Conor’s personal daily struggles. While the Monster doesn’t seem to be helping him, it’s words and it’s actions are working to help him in ways he can’t yet understand, but when he tells the Monster his truth, Conor will understand, no matter how much he tries to refuse it. His truth is so painful to hear, so harsh and naked and honest that it absolutely broke my heart. That’s how emotionally involved this book is, despite only being short, it leaves a lasting impression and is a guaranteed to leave at the very least a lump in your throat. It’s so many words all at once, haunting, touching, tragic and uplifting, and if you’ve ever lost someone close to you, A Monster Calls will resonate in a way that few other books can ever manage.

More... Just... Unbelievable Art.

So, in summary,  brilliantly lifelike characters, with a twisted fairytale sense of morality, an emotional underpinning that creeps into your heart and some of the best illustrations I’ve ever seen in print. That’s A Monster Calls, one of the best books I’ve read in my life. Thanks to Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, and a big thanks to Siobhan Dowd. I only wish we could be graced with more of her work.



2 responses to “A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness & Siobhan Dowd.

  1. Pingback: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?! « shinraalpha

  2. Pingback: More Than This by Patrick Ness | ShinraAlpha

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