In the freezing cold ocean a boy struggles to keep his head above water, but the sea is strong and pulls him under. He drowns. Then wakes, alone, in an empty street in a derelict town in England, the only human left on Earth. How can this be? Is he in the after life, or limbo? Or is this somehow a figment of his dying imagination? And what’s even odder, he knows this street from before. . .
Structure-wise, More Than This is very similar to The Knife of Never Letting Go – a teenage boy discovering secrets about his past in a world which is entirely alien to him, meeting allies, and being pursued by a dark figure. In fact, it has the same chase-and-catch structure of Knife, the same concrete real-time adrenaline pumping storyline that gradually doles out secret pieces of the past.
There are also thematic similarities to Knife: an exploration of interior thoughts vs exterior world through science fiction; the same interest in the way thoughts and the world bleed together and interact. In More Than This, however, these ideas seem to work much more directly than in Knife. In Knife it’s like thoughts are a magic ESP that characters possess, whereas in More Than This there is the hint that thoughts (or consciousness) is what the world is made of, and perhaps the story you create from your random experience is all there is. Is the ‘more than this’.
I love the directness of Patrick Ness’s writing, his urgent cinematic style where we are over the shoulder of our lead character – Seth – and stay with him only. It is the perfect way to tell the story of a character questioning the nature of reality; lost in a world he doesn’t understand. To stay close to Seth and his thoughts is probably the only way that you can tell this tale because the most important thing is that we do not know more than he does. We are learning with him, and have no concrete answers to the question of whether there’s an external reality at all or whether this is a dream taking place in his mind.
Patrick Ness is brilliant at having Seth think his way through problems, reason and consider both sides of an issue, and even when his friends, Tomasz and Regine, give him answers or help him out he questions the nature of their advice, even questions whether they and the driver (the villain of the piece) exist. This is a great post-modern way to undercut the problem of some of the scifi cliches that come up in a chase and catch plot, that at points is in danger of becoming Terminator meets The Matrix, and also keep things on an unsteady keel.
I love the depiction of Seth’s relationship with Gudmund in ‘the past’. The fact he is a gay hero in a scifi-ish novel, but also that that is only a part of his loneliness and his self, a fragment of it, and not what the story is solely about.
I also love it when a character like Seth, who feels alive, thinking and autonomous, suddenly questions the nature of their reality, and you, the reader, feel they are conscious of you and at any moment may work out that they are in a novel.
When Seth first questions the convenience of certain things in the story and whether Regine and Thomas are really real, I thought this was what he meant. And perhaps there is a playful hint of this all the way through, although maybe I am reading that wrong? Seth only exists, in that stream of words, while he’s telling himself the story, or is that the story being read? Just as you only exist when your brain is telling your story to you, and perhaps the ambiguous ending hints at these things too?