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A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness, Jim Kay I don’t think I can write a review for this book. I feel neither equipped, nor inclined, to make an evaluation of A Monster Calls based strictly on its literary style and merits. (Therefore, if you’re looking for an analysis of the plot, characters etc – you will be better served with another review). So I’m writing a response instead. Or, I will attempt to. I have a difficult relationship with books that deal with the subject of death and grief. Occasionally, I find a book that is moving and resonant - and I will both love it and feel jealous of it, for being able to articulate things I never could. Books that somehow translate raw emotion into words, that create a mirror out of ink and paper, reflecting back things I know to be deeply true and real (to me, at least). Then there are the books that make me feel like my emotions are being traded on, manipulated, cheapened. Reducing it to fuel for an angsty teen plot line. Presuming my tears can be bought for the cost of a $19.95 paperback. I can distinctly recall watching a film recently and walking out completely dry-eyed and practically spitting with rage at the distinct feeling that grief was being commercialised on. That such an incredibly personal experience and the accompanying emotions could be held to ransom by an overwrought, histrionic movie. Yes, I took it personally. Because it was personal. A couple of months before I turned fifteen, my father died. It was sudden, an accident. We’d had dinner as usual. He was working nights and left soon after. I hadn’t said goodbye to him because I was annoyed about something. Less than two hours later, he was dead. I could tell you exactly what clothes I put on after my brother told me I had to get out of the shower and get in the car. I could tell you exactly which Renoir print hung in the white, soulless room we were herded into at the hospital. I could tell you, word for word, the first thing my Mother said after we were given the news. What I can’t tell you is what happened after that. Well, after a time, things came back into focus. But there is a great chasm in my mind that covers the rest of that night and the following days and weeks, as if my brain realised I couldn’t bear it and filled that space in with darkness so I wouldn’t see any of it. Now, it feels almost like a presence, something that has grown with me in a strange, symbiotic way over the years. Mostly, these days, it’s a shadow, lying quiet and dormant, but making itself known by shading my memories, colouring the way I speak and act all this time later. At other times, it is a thick, solid wave, filling up my body so that I’m afraid to speak, terrified that I might unleash a torrent I can’t stop. That I might be overwhelmed, suffocated, drowned in sadness. I strongly believe that grief and death are deeply personal things that no one experiences in exactly the same manner. And I suppose that this is why some book and film interpretations make me so upset, that they somehow think they can package up the experience and present it to you, neat and orderly. ”Here is the sadness you ordered! Here are the steps you will pass through! You should cry.. wait for it…now!” The reality, I believe, is so much more complex than that. So, when people tried to reach out to me, touch me, say “I know how you feel,” – I wanted to lash out at them. To scream that they had no idea what I was feeling. All I wanted was silence. Someone close by, not to interpret my pain, but to bear witness to it along with me. A Monster Calls is many things - beautifully written and stunningly illustrated amongst others. But what struck me the most about this book is that it was so terribly honest. It bravely spoke of things that are often harboured in our deepest, darkest centres – far under the surface of our outward manifestations of pain. The things that are kept locked away by fear. Things that go unuttered because we worry that saying them aloud might make them real, and somehow define us in some horrible, irrevocable way. Although this book did make me cry at it’s conclusion, I think in this case it was partly out of relief. The ideas expressed in this book, and very words uttered by the monster, allowed a weight to come sliding off my shoulders. I felt as if a personal truth had just been recognised and validated, in a very tender, respectful manner. Permission to accept that the thoughts I had pushed down as shameful and selfish, were just that: thoughts. Just one or two thoughts out of the millions I have had, but ones that I chose to hold on to and punish myself with for years. I have not read another book that expressed so much understanding of what this is like. I have not read another book that felt this empathetic – it doesn’t just acknowledge your pain, it is a shared experience. A Monster Calls is a special book, one to be absorbed, internalised and held very, very tightly.I hope that it others are able to connect and love this book, to feel it leave an indelible print on them once the covers are closed. I know that I did. Again - apologies for the overly personal tangent this review took. But I'm afraid I simply couldn't find a way to write about this book without my own experiences seeping in. (If time lends me some objectivity, I might come back here and edit to make this a little more helpful.)