“The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.”
Patrick Ness‘ 2011 coming-of-age fantasy A Monster Calls follows 12-year-old Conor who, dealing with his mother’s illness, a less-than-sympathetic grandmother, and bullying classmates, finds a most unlikely ally when a Monster appears at his bedroom window. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the giant yew tree Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth through a collection of fables.
This following post is a review of only the book. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
An emotional tale with a huge heart, Patrick Ness‘ story is a gothic folktale about hope, processing loss, and letting go, transforming a difficult subject into one of strength and bravery.
It’s the kind of story you can read into as deeply as you feel comfortable to; one that younger readers will find more and more meaning in as they grow older. Although the book is an easy read and quite simple in prose, it reads so poetically that you can swiftly read through it in one sitting. And whilst its story-telling methods are basic, it’s messages deep down are complex and it is filled to the brim with beautifully descriptive imagery.
“You do not write your life with words… You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”
Tender at times, A Monster Calls is both heartbreakingly sad and destructively powerful. The story’s central character, Conor, is a troubled and isolated young boy, but he’s also full of an immense courage, as he is made to face a truth inside of him that he struggles with all his might to keep buried inside.
To fight his demons, Conor calls for the help of a monster, a protective but also quite threatening beast, who gives Conor something to fight against. Although the monster appears to be pushing Conor into causing physical damage, to objects as well as to others, at times, he is there as a visual representation of what’s going on Conor’s mind. Conor is merely looking for a friend in a troubled time, urged to let out his feelings of sadness and guilt, to lash out from the anger that’s been building up inside of him, in order to come to terms with what’s going on.
Using the visuals of a terrifying monster to act as the antagonist of the story, the real monster is actually what’s going on in Conor’s head: the haunting struggles of coming to terms with his mother’s imminent death. For me, the emotional moments didn’t revolve around Conor’s mother’s illness, but in the hidden meanings that are shadowed by the monster, instead.
It’s not only what Conor has to face that is painfully sad, but also the intense anger that has built up inside of him that makes this deeply emotional, a pain which nobody of his age should ever have to experience. To imagine a young boy wanting to cause this much violence and damage, for him to be burning up with this much anger inside, that’s what I felt was the heart of the story.
Beautifully and almost innocently decorated in tales of monsters which can be read so differently by different age groups, this is such a compelling read. With a similar feel to Harry Potter’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard because of the use of effective fables, only with a much more impacting punch, we’re left with so much to think about, from lessons to be learnt and judgements to be made.
I can only hope that my children will never have to face anything like what Conor has gone through but, if they do, I will be handing them this book so that they can cherish it themselves.
A Monster Calls was adapted into a film in 2017, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here and watch the trailer for below: