And what a novel he wrote from her idea.
“A Monster Calls” centers around Conor O’Malley, a young child of indeterminate age, but the reader is led to place him between eleven and thirteen. He wakes from a nightmare that remains untold until the nightmare follows him out of his dream and a monster, huge and made from a yew tree, threatens to get him.
The reader, and definitely myself, expected Conor to run, scream, to call for a parent, but what he said to the monster was something else entirely:
“So come and get me, then.”
I think it’s easy to say that early on in the book, page seven in my edition, that I knew the rest of this book was going to make a point that everything is not as it seems.
Conor is young, defiant, angry, sarcastic, and most of all, relatable on all these levels. The monster presents itself as an angry god, having walked this earth for longer than we could possibly conceive, and he will be given the respect he is due.
But even as the reader continues on, they discover that Conor isn’t just the typical teenager, or child, that one would expect. He gets himself up, cleans up the mess left behind by the monster in his bedroom, makes his own breakfast, all the while waiting for his mom to wake up. When she finally does get up, Ness paints a picture of a very sick woman, one without adult support to help her with Conor and the everyday tasks of being a parent.
Although his mother isn’t present very often throughout the book, Conor and his mother are close. It could be the fact that Conor’s father took off for America and only very sporadically calls and hasn’t visited in two years because of his “new family, the new baby, and his new wife’s very convenient migraines.”
All of which Conor accepts in stride, while taking care of himself and his mother, to the best of his ability.
“A Monster Calls” is evocative of Roald Dahl and Guillermo del Toro in that the entire plot, structured around Conor and the monster and his mother’s swift demise, makes you question what is a dream and what is reality. The monster tells Conor three tales of how he walked the earth previously and how he served justice to those in his path. But the monster warns Conor, once his tales are over, it is Conor’s turn to tell him a story; to tell the monster Conor’s truth. There is one thing that Conor learns right away from the monster’s tales: “Stories are wild things. When you let them loose, who knows what kind of havoc they can wreak?”
Conor listens to stories of princes and their brides, of a good clergyman and a bitter Apothecary, and of an invisible man made visible.
Nothing is as it seems and there is both a happy ending and an unhappy ending here. This is a book about loss and forgiveness, and while not very long, presents a cleanly written story about a boy and his mother and how, sometimes, the monster isn’t really the monster.
What Ness accomplishes here is to strike at the core of all of us. You are a child, you are alone and there’s a monster coming for you. What do you do?
Sparsely written and clocking in at just 224 pages, this is a quick read and a book that is so universal in its theme that I could (and will) recommend to just about anyone.
Written by Melissa Gutierrez
A Monster Calls starring Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, and Lewis MacDougall is set to be released on October 21st.
All royalties from the book go to the Siobhan Dowd Trust which centers on bringing the joy of reading to disadvantaged children and young adults.
A Monster Calls
Read our review of the film adaptation here.