A Monster Calls

monsterA Monster Calls (Walker Books) is a contemporary classic, a work of art. It has had a poignant, yet illustrious history. Written by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd and illustrated by Jim Kay, it is now available in a beautiful ‘Special Collector’s Edition’ with additional interviews about the upcoming movie by actors Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones. The book has won both the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.

As Patrick Ness states in his Author’s Note, Siobhan Dowd “had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.” He has refrained from copying her style and has made the story uniquely his own.

Thirteen-year-old Conor is suffering nightmares and always wakes at 12.07. A voice calls him, the voice of a monster yew tree in the nearby graveyard. The monster moves from its roots to fill the space outside Conor’s house and follow him. At first Conor thinks that the monster is a dream but it leaves poisonous yew berries on his floor. It says that Conor has called it.

The descriptions of the monster hint at its mighty power rather than reduce its mystery by portraying it literally. The tree tells three stories and Conor must tell the fourth, the story of not just any truth but his own truth; the thing of which he’s most afraid. Conor comes to realise that, “Stories are the wildest things of all … Stories chase and bite and hunt.” monster-novel

The monster’s First Tale is about a king who remarries and whose new wife wants to keep the kingdom but is driven away by the prince. The Second Tale is about an Apothecary who punishes a parson for his lack of integrity and selfishness. The Third Tale is about invisibility.

Conor’s mother is suffering intensely during her current round of chemo treatment for cancer. He is hopeful of her recovery but the situation becomes so difficult that his grandmother comes to stay. Conor doesn’t get on with her, particularly when she suggests that he will be going to live with her. She’s not the kind, cuddly stereotypical grandma. Things are obviously becoming dire because his father returns temporarily from his new family in America.

At school Conor is a target for bully Harry and the destruction Conor thinks that he wreaks in his dreams also starts happening in reality.

Jim Kay’s black and white illustrations are sophisticated and allusive. Using spiky lines and textures, amorphous shapes and layers, they intimate and suggest fear, grief and nightmare. ness

The written text is also available as a novel.

As well as this exceptional book, it is worth seeking out other works by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd, particularly the ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by the former and A Swift Pure Cry, The London Eye Mystery and Bog Child by the latter.