Literature of the last Decade: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Print Music Editor, Bridie Adams reviews her favourite book of the decade
Patrick Ness’ 2011 young adult novel A Monster Calls has received extremely widespread critical acclaim. The unique story of 13-year-old Conor and his encounter with a monster, which takes the shape of a yew tree, is gripping, touching and, at times, difficult to read.
I have had A Monster Calls on my bookshelf for some time, having bought it a while before the film adaptation was released in 2016. I chose it because I had enjoyed Ness’ later novel More Than This (2013), and particularly Ness’ unpredictable and intriguing writing style. The twists in the narrative of A Monster Calls are fascinating, which is exactly what I would expect from Ness, given the success of his other work.
Despite being marketed as a young adult novel, A Monster Calls is likely to appeal to older children, teenagers and young people, and adults alike. The beauty of Ness’ language and storytelling is certainly enjoyable universally. He sculpts a fantasy world within a recognisable, everyday reality.
Ness perfectly captures the heartbreak of loss, as Conor constantly grapples with a fear of losing his mother to her life-threatening illness. Immensely troubled, the boy suffers from severe nightmares, bullying at school, and family conflict. We see Conor worrying about his mother’s worsening health, enduring the cruelty he faces in the schoolyard, and wondering when, or if, his father will visit from America, where he lives with his new wife and daughter.
The monster is inescapable. It follows the reader like it follows Conor
Conor represses all these emotions until he is visited by the monster. The monster is inescapable. It follows the reader like it follows Conor. While reading, it is hard to ignore the feeling of suspense, of wondering when the monster will next appear. It tells him three tales of justice and punishment and warns Conor that he will eventually have to accept his real feelings and tell the truth. The monster is a manifestation of Conor‘s sadness and worry, and by coming to terms with its presence in his life, he accepts his own feelings and embraces the reality of his situation.
A Monster Calls is a tale about the importance of honesty, both with oneself and with others. Haunting, resonant and bittersweet, it is, undoubtedly, one of the best pieces of young adult literature of the decade.