Category Archives: Patrick Ness

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

One of the books I was most excited about for 2013, even before the year started properly, was Patrick Ness’ novel ‘The Crane Wife’. I was a huge fan of ‘A Monster Calls’, my sister is the biggest fan of the Chaos Walking Trilogy, and when I heard that it had magical and fairytale elements to it, well, it was a done deal. We all know how much I love an adult, though not in a fifty shades way, fairytale don’t we? Yet once the book arrived I started to worry, would the book be everything that I imagined (we all imagine what an author has written in a book from time to time don’t we?) or had I subconsciously overhyped the book in my head?

***** Canongate Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

One perfectly average night George is awakened by a strange sound, something between a cry and a crash. Initially thinking that it is his bladder he soon realises that the noise is coming from outside and on investigating he discovers a huge injured crane in his garden. Half thinking it a dream George manages to help the crane which then flies off and life seems to go back to normal. Yet a soon a woman, Kumiko, arrives at George’s printing shop and Georges fortunes, and the lives of those around him start to change. Will these changes be for the better though and why does this mysterious and remarkable woman seem so intent on helping George, what motives might she have? You will of course have to read the book to find all that out as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. However I think I can talk about the book a little more without spoilers, firstly the characters.

I know it is a real cliché, but sometimes they are hard to avoid, saying that an author’s characters have walked right off the page, yet in ‘The Crane Wife’ that is exactly what they did do. George is initially the main protagonist of the novel and what I loved about him, and indeed what I thought Patrick Ness did marvellously, was that he was a very good man yet not a really middle of the road man who bored the pants of you, even if that is how his ex-wife might have felt about him – in fact I think she says he is just too safe. Genuinely good characters are easy enough to make likeable, not so easy to make interesting though. Ness manages this by giving us insight into various points and events in his life and background. He is middle of the road but you just really like him and want to get to know him better, without him ever becoming ineffectual or dislikeably (not a word, I know) likeable.

“The crane, for its part, seemed to have already given up on him, to have already judged him, as so many others had, as a pleasant enough man, but lacking that certain something, that extra little ingredient to be truly worth investing in. It was a mistake women often seemed to make.”

Patrick Ness also makes the characters around George incredibly interesting, almost show stealing. Obviously we have the mysterious enigma that is Kumiko, we also have George’s daughter Amanda who not only did I love but occasionally wondered if Mr Ness had somehow been inside my head and stolen some of my thoughts. I have a feeling a lot of readers will feel like this about Amanda, she may well become one of my favourite characters in fiction. Amanda is one of those people who find themselves at odds with life; she finds it all a bit awkward.  You know when you go to a party and people are sharing jokes and you someone tells a joke that is either a bit too graphic, a bit dirty or a bit unsavoury (yet you know every other bugger at the table is desperate to laugh deep down but daren’t) that is very much Amanda. Subsequently she has found it hard to keep friends, illustrated with a time when she says something shocking about ‘The Wizard of Oz’ which had me laughing for ages, and indeed has a failed marriage behind her though she does have a lovely son from it. She also finds that this being at odds makes her angry, very angry. I loved her, mainly for her flaws, because she was a really honest character and I completely empathised with her. We have all been Amanda at some point.

‘Oh, sweetheart, I don’t even know why you’re crying now, but please –‘
‘Because I don’t understand how people talk to each other, Dad. I try, but I just blunder on in and knock over the china and spit in the soup and break all these rules that no one will even tell me –‘

It is the same with some of the more minor characters in the book. George’s brilliant, yet completely useless and rather lazy, assistant Mehmet and Amanda’s frenemy Rachel are wonderfully drawn and you will feel you have definitely met them before. Even characters who appear in one page stayed with me long after they were gone, one of George’s teachers and an old lady especially. This of course all down to Ness’ writing which I have loved before but the love seemed to runneth over with ‘The Crane Wife’. I loved the brooding and mysterious atmosphere of the novel, the characters obviously but also the way the book seemed so magical and so everyday all at once in that way that only some authors can get. Here I am thinking of the lovefest which I had with Graham Joyce’s writing in ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’, if you loved that you will love this. The first chapter of the book made me cry through the sheer joy of the prose from the opening paragraph on.

“What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself – a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt – but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder.”

If I had to pick a fault, and it is a small one, then for me it would oddly be the way that the original fairytale of ‘The Crane Wife’, though written by Ness, was interjected in sections through the book. It was interesting to see Ness write in a different style, it’s very sparse and is done in an almost confusing state of magical realism, yet whilst I understood it was to give us a sense of foreboding at what might be coming it broke the story of George, Kumiko and Amanda a little. Not enough to really bother me, but it was something I noticed even though I enjoyed these sections when I came to them.

Overall I absolutely adored ‘The Crane Wife’. It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away.  Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success as it certainly deserves to be read and loved.

I know it only came out yesterday but on the off chance have any of you had a chance to read ‘The Crane Wife’ and if so what did you think? If you fancy hearing more about the book you can listen to a discussion with Patrick and myself on ‘You Wrote The Book!’ just so you know. Which other of Patrick Ness’ books have you read and loved? I need to read the Chaos Waling Trilogy don’t I (don’t you dare tell my sister I haven’t yet as she has said I must for ages), though first I think I am going to get my mitts on Patrick’s first two books. Has anyone read those?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Canongate Publishing, Patrick Ness, Review

Novel Insights on Savidge Reads #1

A few weeks ago I was a little bit gutted when the lovely Polly of Novel Insights decided that she wanted to give up blogging, especially seeing as I nagged and nagged and nagged for her to start one in the first place – see I tell lots of people they should start a blog. Anyway I felt the blogosphere would miss Polly’s ‘novel insights’ into the books she has been reading and so I have bribed her (the things I know after twenty seven years being friends) to come and do a monthly post on Savidge Reads of the books she has been reading and rather enjoying. So I will hand you over to her, make her welcome, let us know what you think of what she has been reading and I am sure she will comment back when she can. Hoorah. Oh and watch out for my interjections, ha!

Hello Savidge Readers!

As this is my first guest post, let me start by introducing myself. Until recently I wrote a blog called Novel Insights which ran for four years. You might have read it, or heard of it on here, or just heard Simon mention me, as we have been best friends since we were playing He-man and She-ra as little kids. (Oh my god Polly, I am the one with all the secrets and all the power – of Grayskull!)

Anyway… at the end of last year I decided that I didn’t want a whole blog to myself for reasons I noted down in my final post. It was definitely the right decision for me, but also rather poignant. Imagine my delight when Simon offered me a guest spot on the wonderful Savidge Reads. I couldn’t refuse…

Onto reading (isn’t that why we are all here? I think Polly meant to add… apart from Simon’s stunning wit and delightful manner). I recently read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for book group in December. I won’t go into too much detail about it as it seems a little unseasonable this side of the New Year, but I will say that everyone should read it. Its short (so no excuses), is told in the most remarkably warm and witty voice (you can almost hear Dickens having little jokes with himself now and then), and is sinister but still charms the reader with beautiful vignettes of Victorian life. I have also just finished The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey but I will wait to review that until after it’s been discussed at book group!

Today I’m reviewing Moranthology by Caitlin Moran and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

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Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

I was first introduced to Caitlin Moran when I read her entertaining take on feminism – How to Be A Woman which was so funny that I chuckled out loud to myself more than once in public. Similarly Moranthology caused me to laugh so violently on London Transport that I could barely stop myself from crying and had to turn away to face the door to try to re-arrange my face!

Moranthology is a collection of her best columns which she has curated around favourite topics. She has an opinion on everything from solving the world economic crisis to Lady Gaga and delivers it with her own very personal style.

In any collection inevitably there are articles you love more than others. I have to say that although I find her obsession with BBC TV’s Sherlock funny but I haven’t seen it so couldn’t really relate to those articles. I felt maybe I should watch it, but then she also loves Dr Who and I just can’t get into it. What do you guys think? Anyway I digress….as usual…!

I zoomed through this collection and was thoroughly entertained. Some of the more serious stories gave me pause for thought. With A Christmas Carol still in my mind, I get the feeling that she and Dickens if they had had the chance to chat may have shared some opinions on society and public welfare.

Her tone is so personal, my guess is that you will either love or hate her writing – I obviously fall into the ‘love it’ category. This is because she is funny, observant and unapologetic about her views. She is also up-front about being occasionally quite annoying and self-indulgent (for instance, waking her husband up to ask how he would remember her if she tragically died early – what woman hasn’t done something similar!?). In other words she’s human and entertaining and it makes me wonder why I don’t read more ‘funny’ books.

Oh and I tweeted her about my laughing incident and hurrah – she replied – look, look!

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So she’s nice too. Read her.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I downloaded A Monster Calls on my Kindle (oh you filty, filthy…) after reading Simon’s Books of 2012. I was attracted to read it partly because of the beautiful illustrations and because it seemed like a dark fairytale of sorts, saying something (as all good fairytales do) important about the human condition.

Conor O’Malley is the focus of the novel. A thirteen year old boy, struggling with the knowledge that his mother is sick with cancer, he is frightened, angry and unable to talk about what is happening which leaves him isolated at school and at home. In his dreams he is visited by a monster, who appears to him in the form of the ancient yew tree at the bottom of his garden. However, the monster is not the real nightmare, he dreams of something much worse that he cannot bear to put into words.

I have slightly mixed feelings about A Monster Calls. I think it’s a very accomplished book and as Simon commented, the book deals with a difficult subject in a wholly original and effective way. The one issue I had with it was that sometimes I didn’t quite click with the writing style. Perhaps it’s because it’s primarily targeted to the Young Adult market so I felt very aware that it was trying to convey something to me – I felt a bit hand-held. I think my expectations were very high because of how well recommended. That was my only minor complaint.

It lived up to my impression of the dark fairytale however. What a fantastic creation the yew tree monster is – frightening and wise at the same time. He is neither wholly good nor wholly bad and challenges Conor’s ideas of life, forcing him to consider that people and their actions are often not what they seem. Even though it has a magical edge, the book has its feet firmly planted in reality. The characters in the book were all so easy to imagine and relate to. Conor could occasionally be a quite unlikeable, but this is part of what makes the book realistic. Let’s face it people who are dealing with terrible things often are not that nice to be around. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and atmospheric – making me a little sad to be experiencing them on a Kindle and not in print!

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So that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed my temporary takeover of Savidge Reads. Do read excellent Simon’s review of ‘A Monster Calls’ and I suspect that he might be posting about ‘Moranthology’ as well at some point! Indeed I shall be as I am dipping into it, and chortling a lot, at the moment between other books and when I have only a few minutes to read something.

Until next time… farewell x Px

A big thanks to Polly for a lovely post. Do let her and I know what you think of the books she (and I, we are like book twins) have read. Oh and Polly forgot to mention she is off to the Phillipines at the end of the week and maybe you could give her some holiday reading recommendations too?

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Filed under Caitlin Moran, Novel Insights on Savidge Reads, Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I have a slight superstition that the first book you read in a New Year will reflect the reading year you have ahead (I also have a resolution I can’t be reading a book as one year goes into another unless a short story/essay collection, don’t ask me why or where this has come from, not a clue). So there is a fair amount of pressure on which ever book I choose first so I plumped for a book I had meant to read all year after my Mum and little sister gushed about it. In fact I got it from the library not long after but someone else reserved it before I’d managed to read it but when Edward Hogan made it one of his books of the year I ordered it in again. Oh I should mention what the book is shouldn’t I? It was ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness and it was utterly superb.

Walker Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 215 pages, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay, borrowed from the library

The basic premise, though to say basic almost sounds cheapening to this book and I don’t mean it to, of ‘A Monster Calls’ is that Conor O’Malley is a thirteen year old boy who starts to be visited by a monster as his mother is dying of cancer. On top of what is happening with his mother Conor is still going to school where he is being bullied and has fallen out with his best friend after she tells everyone about his mum, he is coming to terms with the fact his father now lives in another country and has a new child with a new wife, he is also having to come to terms with the fact that one day he will have to live with his grandma who he doesn’t have the best of relations with. He feels alone, and this is when a monster, in the form of a yew tree but much scarier, comes to call.

I can almost imagine people either thinking ‘I can’t read that it’s too sad’ or maybe that this is an emotionally manipulative book (both possibly flashed through my mind when my mother recommended I read this) ignore either of those thoughts and pick this book up because what Patrick Ness has done here. I should mention here that ‘A Monster Calls’ was an original idea by Siobhan Down who sadly never completed this novel as she died of breast cancer in 2009. I don’t know how much she had written and I don’t want to get into that debate and take anything away from Ness. I can say that I think if Dowd had been able to see what he had done with her idea she would be very proud indeed. There is a sense of collaboration with this novel not only with Dowd and Ness but with the illustrations throughout by Jim Kay. All monotone and brooding, they seem to perfectly match in internal turmoil which Conor has in his head. They also add to the fact that this book is an object of utter beauty, even the story is told on pages with images around the borders, speaking of story…

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe. This adds yet another dynamic to the book. He also has a way of summing up certain things in just a line somewhere thrown in which initially says a lot and then leaves an idea growing and formulating in you and has you thinking about it for days.

“Stories are the wildest things of all, the monster rumbled. Stories chase and bite and hunt.”

I admit from the start I thought that the monster was a metaphor for cancer, especially as yew trees are used in creating some cancer treatments, however as the book I realised Ness had done something much more remarkable and addressed a feeling anyone who witnesses the decline of a loved one with a terminal illness feels no matter what your age. I won’t say what because it would spoil things and lessen the effect but I can say having been there when my Granddad (who I called Bongy, long story) was dying four years ago at a mere 68 I felt all the above of and I wasn’t 13, I was 25 and cared for him through that period. It might be this very factor that makes the book hit home, and left me quite an emotional wreck by the end, but I think anyone regardless of their experience with dying or cancer will get much out of this book indeed.

I can see why ‘A Monster Calls’ appealed both to my mother (aged 46), my sister (aged 13), and Ed (aged 30) and I am so pleased they told me to read it. I don’t say this often about a book, but I do believe ‘A Monster Calls’ is nothing short of a modern masterpiece, so read it if you haven’t already. What a way to start a years reading.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Patrick Ness, Review, Walker Books