The question arose as I read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as to whether the book or the story behind the book was the more interesting. I’ll start with the story behind the book.
Siobhan Dowd had begun her fifth novel when she died prematurely at 47 with cancer. Their common editor asked Patrick Ness to take the idea and write his own novel. According to Patrick in his author’s note, “She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time.” I’ve read a few books that were finished posthumously by somebody close to the author. I’ve not found them to measure up. This book is different. Patrick began with her idea and wrote his own book. The honoring of what happened to Siobhan is not lost on the reader.
The chilling monster of the book haunts Conor, but not the monster he’s expecting from his regular nightmare that he’s had ever since his mother started treatment. This monster is from the ancient yew tree and shows up at seven minutes past midnight. It wants the truth while Conor clings to his relationship with his fragile mother, faces a dismissive father, and struggles with a stern grandmother.
Our de Grummond Book Group read this for our July selection. Lively discussion ensued on which parts of the story were real and which were Conor’s imagination. There was no disagreement about how much we enjoyed the book that ranged from gripping to funny to moving. We could understand why it is sometimes even more appealing to adults who have dealt with loss than to its intended children’s audience. It certainly deserved the Carnegie Medal won in 2012 by the author and the Kate Greenaway Medal for the hauntingly beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay as the year's best children's book published in the UK.
The movie will be out in time for Christmas which leaves me drawn to it and terrified that the filmmakers will destroy the story as they often do. However, I’ve checked out the trailer, and they must have channeled my imagination in the casting of Lewis MacDougall in the starring role. As we say in the South, he’s the “spittin’ image” of the picture I have in my mind. The rest of the cast, with Sigourney Weaver as the grandmother, isn’t bad either. Read the book for sure. I’ll let you know about the movie.