More Than This

More Than ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness

 

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. . .

Spoilers!!!

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?

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Maggot Moon

Maggot MoonMaggot Moon by Sally Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Standish Treadwell seems a completely unique YA voice and as a character totally believable and there. He made me think of Riddley Waker or Huck Finn with his simple forthright cleverness. The malapropisms and odd turns of phrase, he uses in his narration to describe his world, and the people in it, create such individual and unusual images that it lends a dark humour, and a sense of hope, to what might have otherwise been a very bleak story.

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Mord Em’ly

Mord Em'lyMord Em’ly by William Pett Ridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is refreshing to read a Victorian story of the time where the young teenage heroine is a cheeky, sarcastic, badly behaved character, who mouths off to everybody else in the book. So different from demure Dickensian girls, and even the sassy ones, like Miss Nipper or Nancy, don’t have the kind of banter that Mord Em’ly (Maude Emily when not rendered in some of the weirder phonetic cockney of the book) comes out with. Of course, despite her bad start in life, Mor’d Emly comes good in the end, rising up from her teenage street gang beginnings to become a more respectable grown woman, but even through this, she is still very much her own bloody-minded stubborn self.

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Tinder

TinderTinder by Sally Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A dark dream-like fairytale that examines love and the horrors of war. Tinder is an exquisitely designed book, filled with a beautiful poetic prose, and amazing angular black and white (and red) illustrations that interact in unique ways with the text. The story, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s Tinderbox fairytale, which I have yet to read, was a real page turner and the atmosphere is so strongly conjured by Sally’s individual and distinctive way of describing the world, and the the graphic quality of the illustrations, that it stays with you long after you finish reading.

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Fatelessness

FatelessnessFatelessness by Imre Kertész
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whatever I say about this book I don’t think will come close to covering it. A holocaust memoir, that is less about heroes and villains and drama and tragedy, and more about the will to survive. The detached style of the writing and the grey morality of some of the characters in the camp, including, at moments, the narrator, just point up the siege mentality, and the desperate nature of the situation – how one must ruthlessly put ones own well being first in a fight through every day, or shut down the bigger reality of the situation, in order to survive.

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Lobsters

LobstersLobsters by Tom Ellen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hilarious YA coming of age story about Hannah and Sam, two eighteen year olds who are searching for the ‘one’ in their last summer before uni, inbetween worrying about losing their virginity and obsessing about making the right impression with the opposite sex.

Lucy and Tom have done a great job capturing two authentic teenage voices and creating many laugh out loud moments. I especially loved the gags about Harry Potter and the fact that the Nan was called Audrey and she bought her grandaughter a graduation present from Tiffany’s!

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The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Wolves Chronicles, #1)The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A drily witty gothic adventure story set in England in an alternative early Victorian era. Bonnie and Syliva are two orphan girls, whose governess and guardian – the evil and brilliantly named Miss Slighcarp – is determined to cheat out of inheriting the family pile – Willoughby Chase. They would runaway from home, but wolves dwell in the snow covered winter woods that surround the house ready to eat up small children and anyone else who dares to travel at night.

I really enjoyed this book. Its two rambunctious and brave girl heroines have a touch of Edward Gorey about them and the story has genuinely nail biting wolfy-moments as well as shades of The Woman in White and Lemony Snicket. All in all a great fun read for kids.

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Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

The Baron in the TreesThe Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1767 twelve-year-old Cosimo di Rondo, the oldest son of an Italian Baron, climbs into a tree outside his house in protest at being forced to eat snails for dinner. His family tells him to come down at once, but he refuses, in fact he vows that his feet will never touch the ground again, and so begins the chronicle of the strangest of lives, told by his brother, as Cosimo lives out his days in the branches of trees.

This story is what the film ‘Ivul’ by Andrew Kotting was loosely based on, and I enjoyed that – mostly the magical conceit of someone living in the treetops. The film has to stick with what is achievable practically on a low-budget, but in the book, though it feigns a practical air, there is the possibility for much more fantastical imagery. The similarity though is that they both set out to portray the idea of an acrobatic man (not a superhero, but someone like there rest of us, with human failings) living in the trees.

So many things about this amazing idea seem already to exist for me in the back of my mind. That childhood game of ‘Don’t step on the ground’ taken to the craziest extreme. The idea of a tree house, but here anything can be taken up into a tree, furniture, beds, printing presses! The possibility of leaping across spaces in the air, not like Spiderman, but just with effortless jumps, like walking on air, or balancing like an acrobat, (similarities again with ‘Man on Wire’ and ‘Mr Vertigo’.) Especially good are all the scenes between Viola and Cosimo and their arboreal affair. Viola, is such a headstrong character too that she is more than a match for Cosimo.

Though there are many other ideas that run through the story it is not overtly allegorical, like Paulo Cohelo or someone like that would make it. There are images that hint at the spiritual, images of treetops and sky-scapes that sing in the context of the story, and then there are moments about relationships and love or war and politics, but all seen from above in the trees, . Over all it feels like a beautiful evocation of longing for something more and the possibility of living so lightly on the earth and so lightly as a human, that you might float away in the end. I think this is what Cosimo is trying to achieve and he does it in his own strange quirky way, often failing and stubborn, but true to his beliefs to the end.

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