Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review- A Monster Calls.

A couple weeks ago I was editing one of the children's novel that I had written a few months back, despite my English Literature exams going on and I felt a bit too clustered with so many things to do, yet nothing getting done. I am the sort of guy who plans a lot, but does not really works on the plans, until the inspiration strikes. As oddly timed as ever, I was inspired to edit my children's novel, exactly in the middle of my Literature exams and to see where I was going wrong and in which places I can enhance my work, I chose to look online to find some children's books that were selling well and that were receiving critical acclaim in recent times. It's not every day you would find a book receiving both great sales and approval and admiration from several critics. And I came to find this one book that was receiving all the awards and accolades in the world and also bringing in a lot of money, in the past few months.

A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness, is a book about a boy in England, who struggles to cope with the idea of separation from his mother, who is in her final days of fighting against Cancer. Being an ardent Raold Dahl, Enid Blyton and Dr. Seuss fan, I expected the story to be somewhat positive despite its dark thematic setting. It is positive when you look at the story in depth, but certainly not the way you would have imagined it to be. Though the story at the outer surface might seem like a children's fantasy story, it really is not and in fact too mature for young readers. I came to find out on further search on the internet, that the book wasn't really a children's book, but given a young adult classification. I was misled to believe it to be a children's book by certain websites.

I haven't read any works of Mr. Patrick Ness (and knew practically nothing about him) and that made things even more interesting, without my mind trying to bring in the author's own views of various things in the world and his personal beliefs (based on which, the book might have been written). So in a way I began the book, like a follower of New Criticism literary theory, judging the work solely on its own literary merit without concerning about the author, his views and beliefs, along with historical details.

Conor, a boy entering into the most confusing phase of every person's life, the teenage years, begins to have a recurring nightmare, which he is unable to explain, but subconsciously gets affected. The boy often hears a dreaded voice calling out for him, exactly at 12.07 and the owner of this voice seems to be a gigantic yew tree, that is usually seen by the boy, through his window, a little further away from his house. The tree claims that he was summoned by Conor himself and tells him that he will narrate three different stories to him, that will in a way help the boy during his difficult phase and that Conor must reveal to the tree about what he had seen in his recurring nightmare as a story, failing which, he would kill Conor himself. The boy however does not really understand what his nightmare really is and he is unwilling to explain it out to the tree.

This alone might not make the story seem like it has a dark ambience about it, but Conor's life is what really makes the story even more depressing. Conor's mother is battling against cancer and she is described to be undergoing different new treatments which she hopes could help her win her struggle for life, only to be with her beloved child. Conor's father has already separated from the boy and his mother and has started a new family of his own in the United States. The only help that the boy and his mother could have is Conor's grandmother, with whom Conor does not have a very pleasant relationship. Added to the boy's misery of dealing with his sick mother, without the support of his father and their unpreventable dependency on the old woman, is Conor's encounters with bullies in school and the sympathy of the people around him, which inadvertently isolates him from the rest of the world.

What is this nightmare that Conor seems to have, what does the monstrous yew tree want from him, in what way could it actually help the boy, what really happened to Conor's mother at the end, how is the boy's life about to change because of the events happening around him and his mother and how does he exactly cope with it all, forms this heart wrenching story.

Once I completed the book, I had to go online to know more about the author. I did come to know right at the start of the book, that the concept for this amazing novel was first thought up by another English writer Siobhan Dowd (who is of Irish origin), who herself had been affected by breast cancer and died (in 2007) before she could write down the entire tale. The publishers who came across Ms. Dowd's concept, handed the responsibility of writing it to Mr. Patrick Ness. Mr. Ness does honor Siobhan Dowd by giving her the credit for the novel, right at the start of the book and he states "She had the characters, a detailed premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time".

The book does come with some extraordinary illustrations made by Mr. Jim Kay and the image of the yew tree in all its monstrous glory really is haunting, at the same time displays a sense of hope for the distraught boy. Both Mr. Patrick Ness and Mr. Jim Kay received great praise for their work and credit also has to be given for the publishers Walker Books Ltd. for choosing these two wonderful, highly talented gentlemen to complete this beautiful tale, thought up by another great writer Ms. Dowd. I did also come across one site stating that the author Mr. Ness and the illustrator Mr. Kay completed the two different aspects of the book without meeting one another, which is rather surprising and very rare, as in most cases, the writer and the illustrator do share ideas and consult one another while working on a book. Author Ness and illustrator Kay won the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal in 2012, the "year's best" children's literary awards by the British Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

The greatness of this book also lies in the fact that the diction used in this novel is rather simple and the kind you would come across in day to day life. It does not have a great description of the physical world around the main characters, but the mindscape of the teenage boy has been wonderfully depicted and you can practically imagine what the boy must be going through in a very simple manner.

Personally, I was very much moved by this tale and was hoping against hope that things turned out well for the young boy in some fantastical manner and it did, but not in the way I was hoping it would. This book is very much close to reality and the readers must have the strength to cope with its end, as much as Conor himself. I must confess that it did take me a while to come to terms with the book's end and I have not been impacted this greatly by many books, comics, games or movies. This is one Monster's Call that you don't want to miss...
                                                         - A.Prashanth Narasimhan

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