A Monster Calls (by Patrick Ness & Jim Kay – inspired by an idea of Siobhan Dowd)

29 06 2011

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” a famous poet once said. What the cat is holding here is a thing of beauty that will not only offer joy, but most importantly solace forever. A Monster Calls is the novel written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay,  that was inspired by an idea of Siobhan Dowd, who died from cancer in 2007.

Patrick Ness asks the reader in his introduction of this comforting and respectful novel to ‘run with the story’, to spread the word, to never let the legacy Siobhan – or any writer – left behind , die,  because an author’s spirit is as much in his/words as it is in his/her ideas. The idea here is one taken from real life, a boy who has to try to come to terms with his mother dying from cancer.

13-year-old Conor keeps on having the same dream. He is visited by a Monster, who is both formidable and terrifying.  Haunting too,… yes definitely, yet strangely comforting, especially when the Monster – part giant, part yew tree (brilliantly drawn by Jim Kay!) – urges Conor on to show his rage (Conor completely obliterates his grandmother’s living room as a result). The allegorical Monster is also a voice to listen to, even more urgently when it has 3 tales to tell Conor, before Conor himself has to tell his tale of truth. The parable-like tales confuse Conor, who is already confused enough by the not knowing. Not knowing why his grandmother would be there in his house, not knowing why his (otherwise absent) father would come over from America: his mother is just going through another treatment, and soon things will go back to normal. Except, this time, of course, it is different.

Even if you manage to disregard the actual history of how this book came about, and the wonderful result in terms of the writing, you will have to conclude that the artifact “A Monster Calls” is masterfully executed. It is literally a thing of beauty that you’re holding in your hand.  The magnificent black and white illustrations by Jim Kay serve to enhance the reading experience and succeed as such, but they could easily stand on themselves to tell a similar story. They are that powerful. However, the sum is definitely greater than its parts. There are other adjectives that could be applied to the work as a whole: respectful, powerful, sad, comforting, truthful… It’s all of these things. More than anything it is an experience for the reader.[1]

A Monster Calls is a collaborative work of art. It may have sprung from idea by Siobhan Dowd, but the words by Patrick Ness and the illustrations by Jim Kay have given the idea wings and a spirit. If the reader is willing to take it on, there’s a chance for eternity here. It is a thing of beauty, it’s a comfort and a treat… Do not miss this! Like Patrick Ness says: run with it.


[1] As a reader, when you are inspired by what you read and see in A Monster Calls, please do pick up Siobhan Dowd’s other works (the cat highly recommends Bog Child), do pick up Patrick Ness’ superb Chaos Walking trilogy. A Monster Calls breathes a bit of both, but the “proper” work of both of these writers is well worth reading.

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3 responses

3 10 2012
Everybody Jam (by Ali Lewis) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] for the 2012 Carnegie Medal. This is, incidentally in the same year as when Patrick Ness won with A Monster Calls. With that book it has a sense of honesty and raw emotion in common, something which makes it into […]

9 11 2013
When the cat got to meet Patrick Ness! | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] Ness! Patrick Ness was in Antwerp today because of the publication of The Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls in Dutch (by De Geus), but he also had a talk with Belgian child psychologist Peter Adriaenssens. […]

16 02 2014
Maggot Moon (by Sally Gardner) – Carnegie Medals and Printz Honors and all that. | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] made this book stellar (no pun intended)  and then it would have had a much greater impact (think A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay). Now, I felt myself not really looking at them anymore after a few […]

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