John's Reviews > A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
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's review
Jul 06, 2017

really liked it

Somewhere rural in the UK, thirteen-year-old Conor lives alone with his mum, who's seriously ill. Dad swanned off a few years ago with the younger, replacement model, and comes to visit only rarely. Grandma is a bit of a gorgon. And Conor's having a dreadful recurring nightmare that he dare not speak of to anyone, even himself. And he's being bullied at school.

So when the huge old yew tree that grows in the churchyard out back comes to visit one night, makes threats toward Connor and claims to be the ancient nature deity known as Cernunnos, among other names, that's more or less the icing on Conor's cake of misery.

The monster soon mellows, though, as Conor finds the pluck to face up to it. It explains that it will do a deal with him: it will tell him three stories, in return for which Conor must tell it his story, which must be the truth he's too terrified to tell anyone -- the truth behind his nightmare . . .

The tales that the monster tells are twisty ones, with morals the opposite of those Conor was expecting. But then, in a way, as Mum sickens further and he goes through the various stages of grief, he discovers that he himself is kind of the opposite of what he thought he was -- or at least very different -- and the same goes for those closest to him.

When reading books it's a reflex action to think about comparisons with others one has read, and there are plenty of them here, from Tom's Midnight Garden to Where the Wild Things Are to Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine period to all sorts of other titles that don't immediately come to mind. But, although it has echoes of its precursors, A Monster Calls is really its own beast, with its focus almost less on the fantasy than on the changes the child is going through.

I admired the writing quite a lot, and more especially the way that Ness managed for the most part to steer clear of sentimentality. It's rugged losing a parent when you're a kid, and you have to learn to accept that the world afterwards is going to be a lesser and in many ways harsher place, and that this is something permanent, not just a phase you can work through; sentiment, as Conor learns, is not a useful way to try to cope with this.

Jim Kay's illustrations are spectacular, very powerful, very special -- almost too spectacular, powerful, special. In a way I wanted two copies of the book, one unillustrated so that I could read the story undistracted first time round and the other being the one I had in my hands, for a second, more contemplative journey through the tale of Conor and the monster.
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Reading Progress

December 21, 2011 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)
Started Reading
July 6, 2017 – Shelved
July 6, 2017 – Finished Reading

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