This review is an extract from Inis 35. To read the full extended review pick up a copy of Inis 35.
The news that Patrick Ness’s next book would not be solely by him, but based on an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, a talented and award-winning author in her own right, caused quite a stir in children’s literature circles. The choice of Ness, with his hard-hitting brutal stories and spare direct language, to develop a book outlined by someone with the introspective, lyrical style of Siobhan Dowd initially seemed a strange one, but A Monster Calls does not disappoint. Strong direct writing creates a heart-wrenchingly moving novel about coming to terms with loss.
In his author’s note, Patrick Ness explains that Siobhan Dowd had the characters, a detailed premise and a beginning, but not the time to write it. He has taken these initial notes and, rather than try to write the book that Siobhan Dowd might have written, has made them his own. He has written his story from her original idea. Aimed at a younger readership than Chaos Walking, the book itself catches your eye from the outset, with its strong blocky shape, atypical of your average paperback, and heavy dark illustrations by Jim Kay that significantly augment the brooding and sinister atmosphere. Conor is haunted by monsters and what these monsters represent is at the heart of this story.
Although A Monster Calls doesn’t deal huge emotional blows in an obvious way, it is extraordinarily sad. The reader thinks they know what is happening before Conor is aware of it himself; except in that instinctive intuitive way that many children have, Conor already knows the truth. He had just refused to acknowledge it, even to himself. As a result, our dark knowledge reflects his own terrible insight, his own creeping dread. The subtle tension that this successfully builds until the truth is openly revealed – to the reader and to Conor – is hard to take and I found myself dreading the moment.
It is hard not to believe that the premise for this story is based on Siobhan Dowd’s own approaching death, but the magic that Patrick Ness has managed to create in crafting this initial idea into a beautiful book cannot be denied.