Book Review: A Monster Calls By Patrick Ness
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Monsters have often been a very essential part of myths, legends, and folklore. Literature too has in it so many monsters of its own. Some of the famous monsters in literature include ‘Grendel’ from Beowulf, ‘the Creature’ from Frankenstein, ‘Scylla’ from Odyssey, the ‘Blatant Beast’ from The Faerie Queen, ‘Smaug’ from The Hobbit, and many more. The monster in Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is very different from all the above mentioned. And the story is not just about the monster. It is a story about a boy, about his emotional attachments, his sufferings, hope, courage, and finally, his capability of letting go.
Although the novel is widely known to be written by the famous British-American author Patrick Ness, the writer himself mentions that the idea actually originated from Siobhan Dowd whom Ness had always admired as one of his favourite writers, who died of cancer before she could have finished writing the book. Therefore, Ness dedicates this book to Dowd and writes about her in the Author’s Note: “I never got to meet Siobhan Dowd. I only know her the way that most of the rest of you will- through her superb books … This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” (Ness, 2011, 7). The book was published by Walker Books in 2011. It won the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2012 from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). This book is the only one to have won both prizes. Also, it was adapted into a film of the same name by Juan Antonio Bayona in 2016 starring Felicity Jones among others.
The story opens up when Conor, the protagonist of the novel, wakes up in the middle of the night driven by "not ‘a’ but ‘the’ nightmare"- a particular one that he’s having for almost months now. After waking up from the nightmare when he was planning to go back to sleep, he encounters a monster at his window. Not the same monster whom he sees in his dream, but a different one. Seeing him suddenly, Conor is shocked and surprised, but not really frightened. He has been into and is still in such a situation in his life where the fear for the monster is in no way comparable to that.
Gradually the readers get to know about Conor, his family, his classmates, and the cause of his hopelessness towards life.
Conor's mother is at the last stage of cancer. And since the news of his mother's illness had spread across his class, things in his life have started to take place in an unbearable way. Conor feels alienated at school, his friends ignore him as if he is having a contagious disease. They don't even talk to him, the teachers don’t engage with him in class anymore. No one pays him any attention except his only friend Lily, and the so-called “best boy” in his class, Harry who along with his two other companions bully Conor.
Amidst all these problematic occurrences in his life, meeting the monster has not been really that terrifying for him. Rather, he gradually starts to share all the things happening in his life with the monster with the hope that it might have come to rescue him from all the troubles.
The monster then decides to tell him four stories with a promise from Conor that he too has to tell him his own story after the monster finishes. Conor does not at first get the point and he starts looking for lessons in the stories told by the monster. But almost all the stories he listens to feature injustice at the end. The incidents following are full of suspense and excitement.
I loved the character of Conor’s mother. Her practicality, her mental strength in her serious illness and physical weakness, her way of consoling and comforting her son reminded me of the character of Helen Burns from Jane Eyre. There were so many interesting facts about the monster as well. The lines spoken by him are mesmerizing; for example, while answering Conor’s question about his identity he says:
“I am the spine that the mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse, and the fly that are eaten! I am the snake of the world-devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable [sic].”(Ness, 2011, 50)
When he says to Conor, “Because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day…Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both”, the readers discover the wise and humane shade to the character of the monster. (Ness, 2011, 224)
By the end of the story, I was sadder than ever. The loss felt so personal. It had such an impact on me that even when I’m writing this review, my hands and my mind are shivering with the same feeling I had had when I just finished the book. People who love to read books with a tragic end, who love to cry while reading a book, should definitely go for A Monster Calls. It moved me so much! Each chapter is so intriguing and fascinating that it took me just two sittings to finish the book. I have read books like this before but the impact this one had on me is beyond all the rest. Not just children or young adults, this book will captivate readers of any age.
In the whole plot of the novel, there are themes of love, attachment, loss, hope, fear, and letting go. While the readers are well aware of the approaching end of the book, it still gets them glued to the pages in the excitement of what will happen next. Hope starts to build up in the mind of the readers just as it does to the protagonist. The story of A Monster Calls not only represents the supernatural but also depicts the problems a teenage boy has to face in his school when he has no friends, when he gets bullied by some of his classmates, and when he has no shoulder to cry on. Conor being fully helpless relies on the monster for seeking comfort. His attachment with his mother, his growing bond with the monster, the psychological dilemma always taking place in his immature mind, his anger, his anxiety- all these intrigues the reader.
Apart from the story itself, what also fascinate the readers are the author's usage of simple wording, his way of storytelling, the unexpected twists in the plot, and the picturesque qualities of each sentence which make you feel that you are inside the book’s landscape and things are taking place just in front of your eyes. Finally, without any doubt, I can say that I loved this book a lot and I won’t mind reading it again.
Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. London: Walker Books Ltd., 2011. Print.