“A book… it’s a world all on its own too. A world made of words, where you live for a while.”
It seems appropriate to open with this quote, from Patrick Ness’ latest YA offering, More Than This. I have spent the last day or two in its world, and it has been a fascinating ride.
The book opens with the line: “Here is the boy, drowning.” And in the first three pages the boy, Seth, dies. So where to go from here? Ness spends most of the book answering this question. More Than This is an exercise in curiosity, teasing you further and further inside its pages until you’re totally sucked in and can’t fathom how you got this deep into it. After all, Seth is in a world all by himself. You would think that with only one character, things would get stale rather quickly.
But Ness really plays on this idea of isolation. Even the tiniest movement in this empty place has you jumping with fright. Aside from the lack of people, where are the animals? The sounds? The eeriness of this abandoned setting sinks in to you, and just as you’ve become accustomed to Seth’s immediate surroundings you are thrown completely off by the introduction of something new.
I wish I could be more specific, but as Patrick Ness says in his video here, the book relies greatly on its mystery, and I don’t want to spoil it for any of you who might not have read it. The unfurling of the mystery is what I love the most about this book. Ness has done it previously, in his acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, where he opens in the isolation of Prentisstown and slowly spreads outwards and uncovers greater and bigger things. But here it is even more pronounced, as you do not have the distractions of an action-packed plot to take away from it. This is not to lessen the effect – by taking a more minimalist approach, as this story demands, its impact is heightened and made more impressive. And as a reader you get these glorious nuggets of realisation, where enough things are unfurled to allow you to unlock another part of the puzzle.
It might not seem like the most obvious book to sit in the YA category, but yet again Ness has gauged his audience perfectly. Within the scope of this novel he covers a multitude of themes from relationships to bullying to parental trouble and of course, friendship. It is not a book ‘about’ any of these things, but he covers it all within exploration and narration of this world Seth has found himself in. That is one of the reasons I think Ness is such a great YA writer: he threads all of these themes in to make one seamless whole.
His Chaos Walking trilogy is something I find very hard to criticise, both plot-wise and linguistically. More Than This is not far off. However, in the carefully paced opening section of the novel his use of new single-line paragraph for effect can be a little much, overemphasising more than he needs to. This technique faded for me in the second half of the book though, although this may have been because of the steady increase in pace throughout the novel. I initially found the pace unsettling, but then again I should have expected it after being treated to the first few chapters at the Hay Festival. And I don’t see how this novel could have been approached any faster without ruining its wonderful tension.
I thoroughly enjoyed More Than This, and am grateful that Patrick Ness has chosen to once again write for the YA market. Inside the back cover it informs us that he has won every major prize in children’s fiction, including the Carnegie – twice! If he carries on producing works like this, I will be very much surprised if he doesn’t win them all over again.
More Than This: 9/10
My review of A Monster Calls HERE
Listen to Patrick Ness talking about Chaos Walking HERE