I’ve started reading this book on a long train journey home. It was late in the evening and I almost couldn’t keep my eyes open but at the same time I just could. not. stop. reading.
First of all: It’s about a boy. And a sick mother. And a yew tree, planted atop a hill which awakes at night and turns into a monster made of twigs and leaves and tree marrow and tells the boy Conor three stories. And it also tells him that the fourth story will and must be told by Conor himself, and that it will be truth. Which is a frightful and at the same time inevitable thing, as the book seeks to tell us with its grand metaphors. I was not sure what to think of Patrick Ness. After having read “More Than This” (which I found a bit disappointing but that is another story entirely) I was hesitant to pick up another book written by him. But this one had a really interesting premise to it; the core idea actually came from the late Irish author Siobhan Dowd who died before she could write the novel. Patrick Ness then spun his own story from it (which is also a nice ribbon in itself, as the book does not tire of underlining the necessity of stories) and he did that beautifully.
What I liked about this book was its pace, never dwelling too long unnecessarily and only including scenes which are important for the story. I liked how it was never really about what was going on in the scene but what was the meaning behind it, what Conor takes from the stories that are being told or what is said in dialogues between his grandmother and him by not being said at all. I liked how it touches upon the themes of admitting one’s inner truth instead of choking on heavy things, the importance of family love and how to hold on by letting go. What I liked the most of all, though, was the idea of the monster, how it shifts into being out of a tree, gnarling and hurling and how sometimes monsters are not really monsters at all.
One thing that stuck out to me, though, were the three stories that the monster tells. As I already explained, the book places high value on stories and the whole character of the monster is introduced through these, we can see its personality only by the stories it tells us. And to me, the stories could have been crafted finer, wrought better, told more subtly. I felt like they were a bit hard and edgy and it would have added a lot to the story to me if Ness had given them a more fairy-tale like feel to it.
To sum up: This is a sad story which still manages to leave off on a hopeful note so that you can wipe your tears away and think of better days to come for the main character. It’s an imaginative piece of writing which hurts but in one of those good, heart-tugging ways, you know?