The darkness. The wind. The screaming. The hands that slip from his grasp, no matter how hard he tries to hold on.
It’s a nightmare that has stalked Conor in the realms of sleep ever since his mother fell ill. Tonight, though, Conor awakens at 12:07 to find the lines between nightmare and reality blurred. He awakens to find a monster outside his window. It’s not the monster, but it’s a monster that’s far more dangerous because it wants something that Conor cannot give.
It wants the truth.
I’ve been sat here for half an hour now, wondering where I can possibly begin with this review. The most logical thing, I guess, is to begin by shedding some insight into the creation of this achingly beautiful, heartrending book.
The idea behind A Monster Calls was the brainchild of award-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away before its completion. To quote Patrick Ness, “She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” Although Siobhan and Patrick had never met, they had both worked with the same editor, Denise Johnstone-Burt. Denise approached Patrick and explained the situation, telling him about Siobhan’s idea and how something could be made of it. Understandably, he was reluctant. He didn’t want to mimic Siobhan’s writing style, something he felt wouldn’t do her justice, nor did want to produce a memorial. However, upon seeing the idea written down, he realized it wasn’t a project he could easily walk away from.
“There was so much power in what she’d put down…”
And so A Monster Calls was born.
A Monster Calls is many things. To use the old cliché, it’s a roller coaster of emotion. For one, it’s heartbreakingly sad. Watching Conor’s reluctance to accept the terminal nature of his mother’s illness tore me to bits. Despite the brave front he dons in front of his teachers, his grandmother and, initially, the monster, it’s clear in the way he so viciously denies the truth of the situation that he’s just a frightened little boy. He believes that by denying the obvious albeit painful truth, he can drown out the reality of the situation. The monster seeks to change this. The monster walks so that Conor may speak his truth and heal.
It’s also, believe it or not, humorous in places. Conor is such an intelligent and complex character. He has this incredible perception of people and the world around him and makes for a humorous narrator with his wry comments regarding his grandmother and father. It’s an intelligence and complexity that render his character three dimensional. He seems to spring from the pages, take us by the hand and pull us into his life. We live his life. We experience everything. His pain is our pain and a story that makes us believe this is more than just a story.
Above all though, A Monster Calls is a story that instills hope. Conor is just Conor. Mum is just Mum. Grandma is just Grandma. They’re not specific people. They can be anyone…anyone’s mum, anyone’s grandma. A Monster Calls shows us that what’s happening to Conor can happen to anyone and while that’s a frightening thing to admit, it also offers us hope and courage. Conor learns something valuable from the monster and it’s something that we, the readers, learn too. It’s a lesson that strengthens Conor, thereby strengthening us. What that lesson is, I’ll leave that for you to decide. I feel that this is a book that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways and I, personally, feel that I learnt a number of different things. Although it’s a bestselling, award-winning novel, there’s something quite personal in the reading of it and it’s an experience that will be different for each and every reader.
In short, A Monster Calls is a masterpiece.
Rating: 5 out of 5
This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.