“Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.”
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls
A 13-year-old boy named Conor is awakened from a recurrent nightmare. As he pushes aside the feelings of dread that always accompany his dreams, he hears a voice calling out to him from the darkness. Calling him by name.
I have come to get you, Conor O’Malley.
And in the moonlight outside his window, he sees the great yew tree in the field beyond his home transformed into a monstrous creature.
This unexpected visit in the opening chapter of A Monster Calls may sound like a standard horror trope, but it is immediately established that our protagonist does not fear the monster. If anything, he considers the visitation an annoyance. The truth of this often heartbreaking story is that Conor’s deepest fears have nothing at all to do with the supernatural. The precariousness of his life, and his desperate insistence that everything is okay, make him a profoundly sympathetic character. To reveal more about the particulars of his life—and the monster’s intentions—would be a great disservice, as this is a novel that should be experienced on its own terms. It may be sufficient to point out that A Monster Calls is an imaginative, deeply personal novel about childhood, family and loss. It is also an artful reminder of the unpredictable and transformative power of stories.
The mood of the novel is greatly enhanced by the evocative artwork by illustrator Jim Kay. Harry Potter fans may recognize Kay’s work from the illustrated Harry Potter editions, which are similarly magical though much less dark. (Kay’s work should not be confused with that of Mary GrandPré, who was responsible for the cover art and chapter illustrations of all the U.S. editions of the Harry Potter series.) Jim Kay’s illustrations for this volume bring to mind some of Goya's more phantasmagoric creations; the monster’s gigantic stature and melancholy bearing made me think of the Colossus, and the pervasive darkness is reminiscent of Los Caprichos.
A film adaptation of A Monster Calls, starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, and Liam Neeson, is now in theaters. While this magical tale is a natural fit for the big-screen, I encourage readers of all ages to experience the novel. It will almost certainly break your heart, but it may also mend it.