More Than This (by Patrick Ness)

5 12 2013

morethanthis1The Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls set the standard pretty high, in several ways.  In terms of story, Chaos Walking, for instance, was always more than “just” a sci-fi story. Likewise, A Monster Calls is more than “just” a story about grief and loss. Patrick Ness always has a knack of interweaving layers of meaning (like Chaos Walking also explores different types of “society” and what community could mean to a person) into his stories, which is probably one of the main reasons why his books have had so much cross-over appeal.  Patrick Ness is a genre-bender, and a great one at that. Also, he clearly understands that reading can be more than just words on a page. The visual and the aural are definitely important as well. Or how could you explain the gorgeous illustrations in A Monster Calls (which granted, he didn’t make, but still… they add to the ‘reading experience’)? Or the brilliant idea of rendering the Noise in the way that it is shown in the trilogy, Todd’s “voice”, which is totally his own, phonetics and all…  Those four books are definitely on a whole different level of brilliance… and then there’s More Than This.

I do not want to go into the story of More Than This too much, because it is definitely a book you want to go into knowing as little as possible. I will give away, though, that it’s about a boy, Seth, who wakes up, naked and alone, outside of the English house he grew up in (Seth moved to America with his family after a rather traumatic experience when he was about 8). The entire first part of the book (about 150 pages) is all about Seth ‘discovering’ the world he has woken up in. There’s only Seth. This leads the reader onto a certain path… but then, this path is bent, and other characters and a different story that is at first seemingly completely unrelated unfolds. What that story is, well, you should read that yourself. The book is about 500 pages, but it’s definitely a page-turner, because Ness asks question after question, and it’s a mystery and an adventure all in one too and after the initial 150 pages, there are 2 other great characters (Tomasz and Regine), and you’ll be dying to know the answers to all the questions Seth also has…

But, my main questions has to be: did More Than This live up to its predecessors? Well, not quite, I think. And I have some really petty reasons, which have *nothing whatsoever* to do with the writing skills of Patrick Ness and everything with my own expectations – because we have been so spoiled in that department with Patrick Ness’s books, of course! I talked about the visual and the aural before, and I think that both of these aspects (especially the visual) could have been even more prominent in More Than This. Granted, the cover is really something, but I think that the different narratives in the book could have been ‘presented’ in a different way as well. For instance, Seth’s flashbacks. To me the flashbacks are the more interesting parts of this book, and highlighting this in some way (besides presenting them in italics) would have been a nice touch … also in light of what they actually mean in the story as a whole (and to Seth). This is *not* just a book about “a different world”, or a straight up sci-fi story (although there are many ‘familiar’ sci-fi elements in the book, from The Matrix to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, yeah, this is some weird shit). It’s a book about “being” and what constitutes “a life”. As such, the flashback are quintessential. So, yeah, I know, petty… but I think that in light of the existential mind-fuck that’s going on here, things might have benefited from an extra ‘visual’ layer.


Then secondly, I also don’t think that More Than This lives up to its predecessors in terms of “ a complete story”. Yes, there are many layers, yes, it’s a great ride, but in the end, I was still waiting for … something more, something that never came. The intriguing (open) ending, obviously, makes you wonder. Is this it? Lots of questions and hardly any answers? Is this what it boils down to in the end? Or is there something more for Seth? Is there another book for the reader? I honestly don’t know if I want that, but I know I wanted “something” after that last page.

In any case, this book is an existential mind-fuck if nothing else. And Patrick Ness is still one of the most original and daring voices in YA these days.  Not wanting to be pinned down, writing books that do not want or need to be put into that one box. He runs with it, people. That’s what the cat wants in a writer: guts.



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