Siobhan Dowd was an incredible writer.
Selling her books during my previous life at Random House was a real highlight.
Seeing her lauded by Waterstones as one of their 25 authors for the future was a real honour, despite the irony of the accolade. She had been fighting cancer for some time, and it wasn’t a battle she would win.
In the space of a couple of years she published four brilliant novels;
A Swift Pure Cry, The London Eye Mystery, Bog Child and Solace of the Road.
All of them were wonderful, all of them inspired me to write.
I remember her telling me about her idea for a sequel to The London Eye Mystery, set in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. It always devastated me that she never got to tell this story, or the others that would follow.
Last year though, there was news of a final Siobhan book. Well kind of.
Walker had commissioned Patrick Ness to write a novel based on one of her untold stories.
It was exciting news, although you had to wonder just what kind of book it would be. Would Mr Ness try and ape her writing style? Was this some weird take on what adult publishers were doing with the Bond franchise?
I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted to read it.
Yesterday I got the chance to, and I’m incredibly glad I did.
“A Monster Calls” is many things.
It’s wonderful for starters, as well as being important, lyrical, challenging, moving….I could go on and risk sycophancy, and for once it would be worth it.
The storyline mirrors an element of Siobhan’s life, in that it deals with a battle against cancer, but its central character isn’t mum, who fights throughout against the disease. Its hero is her son Conor, who has to witness her decline, as well as fend off bullies at school, and re-build relationships with an estranged father and a strict grandmother.
Oh, and there’s the monster who comes calling too. The monster in the shape of a yew tree, who will tell Conor stories, but expects to hear his truth in return.
So, Percy Jackson it isn’t….
It’s unlike anything I’ve read in a while. It’s hugely brave, and that’s another thing I love about it.
I read an advance proof copy, which only included a handful of Jim Kay’s illustrations, so when the HB arrives fully integrated with these wonderful pictures?
Well it’s going to be special. A book you look at long after reading it.
Walker books are great at that. They proved it with Jandy Nelson’s “Sky is Everywhere” last year.
“A Monster Calls” isn’t an easy read. How could it be given its subject matter?
But despite this I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one day, in airports, on planes, and as the inevitable, crashing ending loomed, on a bus towards home.
I had to feign several yawns, pretending that the tears were just my eyes watering from tiredness.
It’s not a long book, 200 pages or so, but there isn’t a wasted word. It’s like reading David Almond at his very best.
There isn’t a lot else to say. Well, there is, but I reckon I’ve bigged it up enough. There’s a danger to over-hyping books, making other people expect too much.
I just think it deserves to be read by a huge audience.
It’s Siobhan’s story, at least its starting point is, and I’m sure knowing her added to the poignancy.
But make no mistake, this is Patrick Ness’s book. And what a book it is.
It deserves to win every award out there. I hope it does.
It’s up there with “Skellig”, “The Outsiders” and “The Book Thief”, and that’s where it will stay for me. I can’t give it higher praise than that.