At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting – he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth…
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.37 out of 5
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.
Because this particular book has cropped up on my radar a few times this week through a variety of sources (can I also be my own source? Does that work?) I thought, ‘to heck with it’ – let’s do ‘A Monster Calls.’
This actually appeared on Books of Magic’s ‘books I will never read again’ list and I quite agree. But not because it’s bad, oh no. I rate this one very highly indeed. So why the ‘never again?’
Let me give you a brief background story.
The author is Patrick Ness but the original concept wasn’t his. In May 2007 a writer named Siobhan Dowd was named as one of the ’25 authors of the future’ and then, on the 21st August 2007, she died of advanced breast cancer at the age of 47.
That alone makes my eyes do funny things for a variety of reasons.
Apparently the idea for the story came to her after her diagnosis but sadly she didn’t get the chance to start it. Patrick Ness was approached by his publishers (probably because of his history of impaling people through the heart with words) and was asked if he would do something with the idea. And do something with it he did.
I want to warn you now: this book may be triggering for those who have lost someone to cancer. Normally this would be a massive spoiler but for this book it actually isn’t. I’ll explain. Sort of.
This book was finished by moi in 2.5 hours. It’s not a long book nor is it written in a complicated way which makes it an easy read.
Oh jeez, it is not an easy read.
Because I love reading other people’s opinions on books I’ve read – and yes, even the ones that disagree with my view – I check out what Goodreads has to say. For ‘A Monster Calls’ some reviewers have stated that they felt emotional manipulated by the author.
I’ve got to say…. hell yeah! There was such emotional manipulation going on here. Patrick Ness was working my heart strings like he was Gepetto. He was probably rubbing his hands together in glee whilst doing it as well, crazy crazy heartbreaking author that he is. But did I care?
Look, I sobbed my way through Disney Pixar’s Up and if I couldn’t hold it together for the first fifteen minutes of a children’s movie than I’m not about to hold it together now.
Now, I did say that this book may be triggering for those who have lost someone to cancer but I also mentioned that it isn’t as massive a spoiler as you would think. Here comes that explanation.
The ‘monster’ is a yew tree that comes to life (or does it?) and tells the protagonist three stories. After it has told the third it wants a story from Conor himself.
Quite early on we learn that Conor’s mum is terminally ill with cancer. We also get to meet Conor’s overbearing grandmother, his emotionally and physically absent father and the trio of bullies that beat Conor up and refer to his mother as ‘baldy.’
It’s a trauma conga. This book is sad. It starts sad, continues sad and finishes sad.
As a reader you actually know the inevitable is going to happen as it’s heavily implied from the beginning that this story is only going to end one way. So, oddly enough, it isn’t a massive spoiler when it does.
The point of this story is that you get to watch the events unfurl and wait with horrible anticipation for that thing to happen. You and Conor are on the same journey, he just doesn’t know it.
‘A Monster Calls’ is actually not a book about the ending at all but about the destination and the coming to turns with the inevitable. Woven into the main story are the three ‘fairy tales’ that the monster tells which serve as a reminder that sometimes ‘bad guys win’ and that not every story has a happy ending.
In terms of story telling and writing it is a little like an anvil being dropped but I went with it Wile E. Coyote style.
Did I mention this book is sad? Let’s phrase that out. I spent the last chapter crying and then, because I was crying so much I needed to re-read the damn chapter, which made me cry some more.
I think ‘A Monster Calls’ has done Siobhan Dowd proud.
No, I’m not still crying. Jeez. Something’s in my eye.