Friday, March 16, 2012

Review of A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd (audio version)

A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd (audio version)
by Patrick Ness
5 Scribbles—a marvelous tribute to the memory of author Siobhan Dowd
Conor has a dark, shameful secret. It is the kind of secret he cannot share—even with his beloved mother, who is now very weakened by her battle with cancer. But some nights, right after midnight, a Monster appears in the midst of Conor’s room—and the Monster knows Conor’s secret. When the Monster comes walking, will Conor’s secret be revealed?

Conor’s mother is suffering through continuous bouts of chemotherapy, and Conor must take care of himself at home and at school—where the truth about his mother has alienated him from other students. If Conor is anything, it’s tough and stoic, which is why it isn’t hard to believe that when the Monster first appears to Conor, he isn’t frightened at all—in fact, the Monster, as gnarly, as sinister, as powerful as it is, doesn’t encounter Conor’s fear, but his defiance. Readers can easily empathize with Conor. Faced with his mother’s death, there isn’t much else that can scare him, so—bring it. And the monster does bring it, but not through the power of his huge, earth-encrusted fists, or his thick, ropey calves, or his booming, angry voice. No, the Monster brings the fear little by little, through stories that reveal truth. Little, tricky, unfair, ironic truths that tickle the back of Conor’s thoughts and beliefs, that threaten to challenge his idea of what is fair, stories that ultimately bring Conor to the brink of despair.

There is much to admire in this story: the occasional humorous dialogue that reminds the reader how normal and young Conor is and makes the reader laugh when they really want to sob, Conor’s rage and need to feel an outward pain as he accepts the abuse of bullies, the weight of Conor’s grief and fear of loss, the imagery of the Monster. Ness takes the archetype of the Green Man and weaves it into the story so naturally that one can see the symbols of life, nature, personal growth, and rebirth at every stage without breaking the magical tension of the story. The tale is a masterpiece, a merging of myth with present reality, with all of our human idiosyncrasies, our fears and weaknesses. Ness has created a true horror story that will haunt all who read it for years to come, and isn’t that what a truly fantastic "Monster" story does?

Jason Isaacs, the narrator of the story, does a phenomenal job with voice; he quickly changes from the ferocious Monster to the natural, boyish and sarcastic tone of Conor with ease. His female voice is also well done and credible with only a few instances where the transition is rocky. Particularly impressive was Isaacs vocal presentation of Conor’s dad, a former Brit, now ex-pat American whose accent and word choices have gone awry. I would most certainly choose a novel read by Issacs again.

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