A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Opening sentence: “The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”
This blog got its name from the place I do most of my reading – the 7:47am train on the way to work. One morning this week the trains gave me (what in the past would have been frustrating situation) a lot of extra reading time due to their shoddiness at keeping to a timetable. Delayed by over an hour, rather than get stressed, I simply read and transported myself away from the simmering, unspoken anger emanating from the people rammed into the carriage around me.
It’s always a sign of a good book when you look up and suddenly you’re at your destination, or in this case, you’ve been stuck on a train for an hour but don’t realise. A Monster Calls is written by Patrick Ness but he makes clear that this story came from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, a young adult author who sadly died before she could turn her idea into a book.
Lead character, Conor is 13 and lives with his mum who has cancer. His dad has moved to America and has a new family and his grandmother is hard to get along with. His mum is his whole world. That is until a monster – in the form of a giant Yew tree – starts appearing at his window at 12:07 most nights. The word monster in the title obviously makes you think this will take a supernatural turn or become a big good vs evil battle but this book addresses a far scarier idea – the monsters that are inside us and how we live with them.
I found this such a powerful book, in so many ways. From the effortless writing to the way it makes questions continually pop into your head while reading, about the monster – his role, his tangibility – about where you think the story is going but you really don’t want it to, about the power of storytelling, about the beautiful nature of truth.
There are posters all over London for the film, but I don’t know if I want to see it. The images and my personal interpretation of this beautiful book have been so clearly ingrained in my brain that I don’t want someone else’s imagining to take away from that.
Also, on a quick end note, an essay by Patrick Ness accompanied the edition I read and in it he made a perfect point, ‘I’ve always felt A Monster Calls was never solely a book for children. A good story should be for everyone.‘ This is something I’ve long thought, no matter the intended audience, a great story will speak to everyone.