{book} a monster calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Illustrated by Jim Kay

Candlewick Press, 2011.

hardcover, 206 pages (ages 12+)

I had been warned and still I read it before bed. I had been warned that hankies would come in handier than a well-lit room. That terror subsides for grief, and not just thematically.

While A Monster Calls is not what one would expect as a traditional R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read it is perfect for autumn into winter. It has the ingredients of a RIP read: a monster does call, more than one actually, and there are nightmares, death, murder, witches, bleeding, and creepy tales… and there is an unnamed terror that when it comes to light you understand its horror, how it tormented the hero, how that monster could be more terrifying than the one inhabiting the yew tree. It’s just not chilling in the usual way, nor thrilling in any way other than the kind we find in a really well-crafted story. But it is one you shouldn’t stay up with while everyone has long since fallen asleep and all the lights but yours are out.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.—publisher’s synopsis.

A Monster Calls is a thin volume and heavier than it looks, paper and pages weighted for gorgeous illustrations by Jim Kay. Patrick Ness doesn’t need any more words than he’s found the spin truly impressive tale of a boy dealing with his single mother’s illness. Conor’s father has a new family in the U.S., his maternal grandmother is hard, there are bullies at school, concerned teachers, an ex-close friend, and a monster who keeps showing up to have a talk with him—but then, of all the people who would “have a talk” this monster is the most relentless—nearly as relentless as the other monster.

The monster who walks, who comes to call is ancient and wild. He has many names (34) and can take many forms but he prefers the yew tree (a very complicated symbol). The monster finds stories to be powerful and as wild as he and he wants to hear Conor’s story. Conor is not keen on the idea, but he bides his time as the monster wants to share three tales of his own first. The tales are exquisite and their outcomes baffle Conor. As they find correlation with the things going on at home and school, Conor’s life adds further consideration to the tales—and deepen the mystery surrounding Conor’s repetitive nightmare.

There is an aspect to the story that brought to mind Adam Haslett’s short story “The Beginnings of Grief,” it is where Conor seeks out punishment, not actively per se, but he actually looks forward to blows from the school bullies. He wants to see justice mete out in the tales, the more destructive the better. But he seems immune from punishment from others (and eventually all), who always counter with: “What purpose could that possibly serve?” The question follows the Monster’s tales as well.   A Monster Calls and its tale(s) talks also about power, isolation, (in)visibility, belief and guilt—and to what end? That is what Conor wants to know and what he is not sure is possible or even deserved.

Much of the pleasure of the read is not only the clever weaving of this tale, but the characters who populate it–the Monster and Conor foremost. For all the weight they give the story, the characters drive the action that buoys the story pursuing it with mounting dread–and increasing relief. The more out of control things seem to spiral the greater the optimism that it will all soon be over, one way or another.

I know I have not done my best with this review as I really hope anyone and everyone would read it, at least once. It has the dark and the mischief and the raging that is so extraordinary to experience in Patrick Ness’ writing.


recommendations: 12 & up, boys and girls, and not necessarily only someone experienced with or experiencing grief, fans of David Almond as he came to mind with this one; those who love tales.

A RIP VII read

{those loverly dark images belong to Jim Kay}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

7 thoughts on “{book} a monster calls

  1. I added this book to my TBR earlier this year because the reviews that I read intrigued me. Unfortunately, I can’t read it until 2013 because of my manifesto, but it will be one of the first books I read in 2013. Great review, L. You’ve got me even more intrigued.

    (It’s my affinity for tragedy/horror that so intrigues me to this book. Like when someone tells you not to watch a particular video because of a “viewer discretion” advisory and you go on and do it, only to regret it, when Real horrors creep their way into the blackness of your mind as you lie awake at night. Why do I find this type of thing attractive? Hard to express, but the tragedy of this book certainly appeals to me, if only to see if I’m attuned with other reviews.)

    *((Similarly, this was the same reason that I first started GRRM’s ASOIAF back in college. “Don’t read it. You’ll grow attached to characters and Martin is ruthless.” Bah, I thought. Hooked like a fish I was, even before I started the series, only because of reviews.))

    1. I hope you like it. at the very least I think you will like the tales the monster tells. Many focus on the tragedy of what is going on with the mother and the implications there, and that is probably because I have read a lot of parent’s reviewing it. It isn’t bad or wrong. I just think where Ness goes with the Horror as it is based in the tragedy is much more interesting. He taps real fears a human would have and deals with human emotions that can be horrifying given the right circumstance–like the desire for punishment, for one. but really, what is appropriate in circumstances like Conor’s? anyway, it is dark in a lovely heartbreaking kind of way. lots of monsters come to call….

      Sean reading the first ASOIAF and going on. I tell him he could set it aside. No, he said. Considering the next volume, he couldn’t look away then either. He slammed through them as he was able to get a hold of them and is now impatiently awaiting the next one to publish.

    1. I hope it will not disappoint and would love to hear what you think about it. I really liked it and since it is a quick read I figured I could err on the side of hyperbolic language. 🙂

  2. This is one I have to get to. I was given it as a gift and it is a lovely volume. So hefty and well put together and I’ve heard so many good things. I’ve also listened to and read some interview with the author and they also make me want to get to this.

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