Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"You speak the truth...You think it is easy?" Some thoughts on 'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness

"The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming... The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth."

Like many people will, I read Patrick Ness' new book A Monster Calls in an afternoon and cried solidly for a few hours afterwards. It was sometimes so emotionally difficult to read, at several points I didn't know if I could finish it.

Initially, I couldn't quite find the words to say why this book hit me so hard, and all I could do was applaud its clarity of expression, honesty of emotion, delicacy of metaphor and the beautifully placed illustrations that gave me goosebumps especially the surprise of each full-page spread.

Aren't they stunning?

I think my reaction to this book is partly to do with an important idea to me: of children (and anyone, really) being allowed to be angry, and for that anger to be valid and true. An okay thing to feel. It's why I've always loved Where The Wild Things Are as well.

In A Monster Calls, Conor deals with his anger by trying to be invisible and capable. He hides his anger from everyone (including himself) until it bursts out of him as a (literally) destructive force. When he lets his monster out and lets himself be visible, then he has to face it and find ways to deal with it, and to deal with the truth of his anger.

There are truths we hide, from each other and from ourselves, because they feel like they hurt everyone too much. They're not fair.

"Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers' daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving."

Truths make you angry as hell, they make you beat up the bathroom. As Conor's mum says, everyone should be allowed to be "as angry as you need to be...And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard." But once you've broken things, you own the destruction. And you have to acknowledge what you've let out, and believe it.

"Belief is half of all healing."

Belief hurts, truth hurts, healing hurts. Which is all very unfair, but as the monster simply puts it: "humans are complicated beasts." Our minds are much happier believing "comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both."

Truth sucks. It just happens, unfortunately, to be necessary.

These thoughts are confused in my head, but I thought I'd write them down anyway, before I lose them or doubt them any further. You know, the "maybe I've got this all completely wrong and I'm the only one who thinks this and anyway this is far too dramatic to be posting" feeling you get when you write blog entries sometimes? That.

One thing I'm sure of is that I want to thank Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd for the gift of their story, and Jim Kay for his amazing illustrations.

"Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth."


hwc said...

He looks like swamp thing! Maybe a touch stick-ier...

greenspace said...

now I definitely want to read it - but sometime when I'm feeling buoyant to start with.
those illustrations are amazing! as amazing as Charles Keeping's work (and I think Keeping is utterly brilliant)

and the self-doubt about the blog post - yeah - "I'm being too emotional, I'm over-thinking this, maybe I should research this more, it's probably all been said before, I bet no one else thinks this, what a stupid response!"
aren't our minds limitlessly creative? :-P

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

I think this a book I would like, especially as an only child and at this particular point in my life - I know the angst/anger-guilt cycle well.

Sean said...

I love the illustrations. The book isn't out in the U.S. yet. I've placed a copy on hold at local bookstore. Can't wait to read it... I'm sure I'll love it, for the same reasons you did.

Anna said...

Yes, it's really got a sense of the universal about it, while still being a deeply personal book.

And the illustrations really make it.