Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.87 out of 5
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”
“I said shut it.”
My brother is a massive book snob so if I recommend a book to him than I better make it a good one otherwise the degree of head shaking and disappointed looks I get is record breaking. I can’t be putting up with that for the rest of my life.
Has he read it yet? I don’t know. But the most important thing here is that I recommended ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ to him and will carry on
bullying subtly recommending it to him until he does.
Patrick Ness has also rocked up on my Top 5 Auto Buy SFF Authors because I will now read everything that he will ever do. Just one thing though: you will cry.
The Knife of Never Letting Go has a meaty main course of ‘Hero’s Journey’ plot with a side dish of ‘Boy with Dog’ and – typical for YA fiction – a dressing of meeting someone of the opposite sex who will take the Hero’s Journey with them. That person may or may not later become a romantic interest.
Do not take those flippantly written sentences as an indication that the use of those tropes here is a negative thing. They may be common and they may be popular but when they are written well than they are good devices to use.
In this book, they are truly written well. We follow Todd, once a member of a ‘Town with a Dark Secret’ who is now escaping for freedom from something he (and we) don’t fully understand. He is armed with a knife (linking to the title) and travels with his dog called Manchee before he discovers Viola, a girl his age who is vastly more emotionally intelligent, who joins him on his journey. Not that she had much of a choice. What makes Viola special is the mere fact that she is female. There are no females in said Town with a Dark Secret and because of her femaleness (is that even a word?!) she emits no Noise.
This story is set on a planet that is not Earth (but has its similarities which I’m looking forward to exploring more) which has been colonised by humans. There are native ‘aliens’ called the Spackle and there is the Noise. The Noise is a unique and key component to the book and is conveyed as the transmitted thoughts of every life form. This, as you can imagine, means things get quite noisy. Get it? Get it?? GET IT?!
Actually it’s very well written. Not only do we get the ‘noise’ of people (and some of those Prentisstown thoughts are quite telling, pay attention at the beginning) but we also get the noise of other animals (for example the opening lines above convey Manchee’s) and I really felt that the writer somehow managed to portray the thoughts of dogs and horses and even crickets. Not that I know what these thoughts would be aside from using the power of my own imagination.
While I was reading I did wonder what noise my pets would give off. The guinea pig is relatively easy as it would be “FOOD! FOOD! FOOD!” followed by “DANGER! DANGER!” but the cat is proving to be more difficult to read. I honestly can’t tell whether she loves me, tolerates me or is plotting my downfall. No cats were present in The Knife of Letting Go and frankly, Patrick Ness, I know why. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are no one knows what a cat is thinking.
In terms of characters, Todd isn’t always the most sympathetic character. I’m sure I’ve written before about protagonists needing flaws and if I haven’t I will say it here: protagonists needs flaws. This is great because Todd has many. He’s mean spirited, quick to anger, has a misplaced sense of pride, I mean I could go on here. But…BUT…you care for him. And that is other thing that the protagonist needs to have: the ability to make you care about their journey. Despite those flaws Todd is an inherently good person, and as you watch him develop through the story as the events unfold you want him (and Viola) to find their way in this chaotic world. The trilogy is called ‘Chaos Walking’ for good reason.
Whilst I like Viola’s character very much I didn’t feel that she was as fleshed out as Todd and so I thought she came across as a little bit flatter. Not flat, just flatter. However this is only book one in the trilogy and I hear we get a lot more of Viola’s point of view in the future so that may help round her out better.
So far, the promise that has been dangled in front of me is that this is an increasingly complex story in an even more complicated world. One of the things I can’t stand is what I call ‘YA’ snobbery where people don’t view YA books as actual literature. A lot of YA that I have read deals with adult themes and often presents them with a great deal of intelligence. This is one of those books.
Already one book in and we are dealing with societal expectations, right to privacy, war, biological warfare, genocide, ‘Fantastical Racism’ and misogyny. All this in a book written for teenagers. Luckily the subject matter is intelligent but not heavy (nothing is graphic). As we see this world through the eyes of Todd, someone who has been conditioned to think certain ways, we are challenged to change our perception just as much as he is. This book is intelligent enough to guide you to the answers without spelling them out for you and understands that its target teenage audience has the capability to work things out for themselves.
Patrick Ness is a skilled writer with considerable talent and I look forward to reading parts two and three.
P.S I also must confess there was one scene that made me stop reading, put the book down and walk into the kitchen to say to my partner, “I need to take a break for a minute.” As it’s a spoiler I have put it right at the end of the review for you to highlight over if you want. Please don’t read it if you don’t want to be ruined for life.
No, I’m not being overly dramatic again. What are you even talking about?
*Flounces off and swoons into a chaise-longue*
I always think that if a story elicits an emotional response from you then the writer has done their job. In this case it may be because I am a huge animal lover, it may be because I wasn’t expecting an animal death in a YA book or it may be because I wasn’t expecting it to go down quite like it did in a YA book.
Let’s face it Manchee is an awesome character and an awesome dog and because we can hear his noise and his innocent pupper thoughts it made his death harder to stomach. His main priorities in life were having ‘good poos’ and protecting Todd and not necessarily in that order. The fact that he dies whilst saving Todd is sad and the fact that he dies by having his neck snapped is even sadder.
No. I lie. The fact that we last hear him wondering why Todd is floating away from him on a boat is even sadder. I’m going to need to go pause again. He was a good boy.
It’s raining indoors. I swear it. That’s why there’s water on my face. I’m not like, crying again or anything. Damn you Ness!!