With the CBI awards a bit out of the way, I now have more time to browse the shelves of my local library and actually read the books I borrow (as opposed to glancing at them guiltily while they gather dust on my bedside table or summarizing very roughly Thomas the Tank Engine's latest adventure) (in French).
And so, I've finally managed to read A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd.
In short: it's really good.
Conor's mum is sick. His grandma is a pain. His dad is on the wrong side of the ocean and school is essentially hell. To make matters worse (or better?) a monster keeps appearing a few minutes after midnight, in the shape of a nightmarish yew-tree man.
Life, death, love, resentment, terror, betrayal and a dose of naked violence... there's a lot going on in this intensely poignant tale. Conor's story and character are very engaging, making this a real page-turner. The sadness and peacefulness of the resolution are handled beautifully and Jim Kay's illustrations are fully part of the emotional impact of this book.
That said, I would argue that it's perhaps trying to do too much. Some of the themes (unfairness, punishment, invisibility...), while they are skillfully introduced and touched upon, are never (in my view) fully integrated to the main frame of the story. And the monster is a strange mixture of terror-inducing fury and powerlessness. His simple presence is usually more effectively scary and impressive than his threats, which Conor never takes seriously and which never come to pass. As for the secret Conor is hiding from the world as well as himself, I suspect I won't be the only reader to guess what it is long before it is 'revealed'. But then again, it's not so much about knowing the secret, as it is about knowing what to do about it.
On the whole, though, a very good read, which will stay with you for a goodly while after you've closed the book and brought it back to its shelf.
(And no wonder it's shortlisted for both the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway)