Patrick Ness’s highly acclaimed novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go, features a protagonist raised in an all-male society. With a nod in Ness’s direction, Bergin successfully evokes a world composed of females, where masculinity is associated with destruction, violence and brutality, while what are perceived as the female attributes of openness, peace and caring are enshrined in the rules governing everyday existence.
This community is not all it seems, however. It is founded on the ‘unimaginable sorrow that seeps and bleeds and bubbles,’ which surfaces when teenager River finds Mason, a desperately sick boy. The event is seen as so dramatic and potentially destructive that it is likened to the explosion of an atomic bomb and leads to the undermining of the values of this seemingly feminist utopia. Lies and secrets surround Mason’s care, given largely by River’s family. His recovery sees the mutual fear and suspicion of the two adolescents slowly give way to friendship.
The novel’s major weakness lies in the unconvincing, but pivotal, episode towards the end of the book in which River frees a man caged for transportation to China to help relieve the country’s sperm shortage. His sexual attack on his rescuer and its consequences reignites the clash between private and public morality. It is only when River is true to her own beliefs, and rejects her community’s loving protection, that society’s ethical vision can again be legitimately embraced and River, it is suggested, play a role in establishing a more accepting milieu.