You’re curled up in bed, it may not be dark yet, but the sun is taking its leave and the sky is darkening from blue to black.
That is the setting I would suggest for the following two literary accomplishments.
The first, ‘A Monster Calls’, is a fabulous tale written by acclaimed children’s novelist Patrick Ness and is brought further into life with Jim Kay’s Gothic inspired, charcoal and dripping ink illustrations. It truly is a masterpiece, guaranteed to satisfy not only horror mongering children, but those of us who are still in touch with our inner child; the one still scared of things that go bump in the night.
The Novella was born from the idea of ‘Bog Child’ author Siobhan Dowd, whom Britain, and the world, lost to Breast Cancer in 2007. Ness homages the writer in the Acknowledgements before the tale unfolds; “Go. Run with it. Make Trouble”, and I believe the tale’s antagonist, Conor, and his battles with the terrors of his imagination and reality, fulfilled Dowd’s blessing.
A Monster Calls presents us with a suffocating Metaphor that without warning is pulled from us so we doubt what is being presented as real, and what we should be deeming more dangerous for Conor and his mother.
We are faced with the emotional turmoil of a young boy, slowly withdrawing from the real world, as his mother slowly loses her battle with Cancer. He resents the overbearing presence of his Grandmother, is unnerved by the uneasiness of his schoolmates and teachers alike, and wants nothing more than his Father to return home and make this nightmarish life disappear.
Ness’s storytelling puts us in the place of Conor. Terrified of the future, and questioning our own sanity with nightly visits from ‘The Monster’ who promises to tell us three tales, in return for one of our own, in return for the truth about us.
The penalty if we refuse? We’ll be eaten alive by this nightmare.
As I read through Ness’s highly acclaimed work, I felt the familiar shiver that had travelled up my spine from the words of another Horror master.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.”
The bard of the bereft, and fantastic Edgar Allen Poe, dealt with the truths we were too scared to confront within ourselves. As Conor fought against his Monster, to keep his ‘truth’ hidden away, we see the slow destruction of the young boy’s life… how it threatens to come crashing down if he doesn’t confront his own truth.
In ‘The Raven’, the speaker slips into madness as the intruding creature inspires conflicting emotions within the man. The questions he asks are ones he already knows the answers to… yet he is too scared to acknowledge them, allowing himself to be driven further into insanity with the repetitive ‘Nevermore…Nevermore…Nevermore!’.
Ness has brought back this danger of repression and reaffirms how destructive it can be; not only to those self-inflicting it, but to those they hold dear to them. With A Monster Calls we see that the action transcends all ages. Boy or Man, the soul is still scared of its own darkness. The thoughts that go bump when self-restraint and reason is asleep. We see how the age old problem of ‘bottling up our truths’ only feeds our inner demons.
If you enjoyed A Monster Calls, (and I can’t see how anybody wouldn’t), you should give Poe’s cult-classic The Raven a read. Maybe it’ll tempt you into his collection of short stories that, if you’re a fan of the strange unexplainable conundrum of the human condition, will satisfy your species of bookworm completely!