Friday, 27 January 2012

Book of the week: A Monster Calls

I started reading this highly appraised book yesterday as I went to bed, and after ten pages I wanted to put it away. Every single cliche was in it: a lonely, insecure protagonist bullied in school, an absent father with his new wife and baby, a sick mother, a busybody granny, an inconsiderate teacher, italics for the voice of the inner monster, and, well, the eponymous monster. I immediately thought about an award-winning and absolutely horrible Swedish young adult novel with almost identical initial set-up, that mostly renders the female protagonist's worries about getting rid of her virginity and finding ways of getting drunk on Fridays. Every now and then she visits her dying mother in hospital. I just couldn't stand another of these novels.

However, some of my students had read the book and said it was wonderful. (Not that I trust students' opinions, but I try at least to be informed about their likes and dislikes). So I gave it a chance. Then I couldn't put the book away and kept reading until well after midnight.

There are many children's and YA novels about "coping with death". I am generally not interested in the aboutness of literature, and I am definitely not interested in how to use books for therapeutic purposes. This book is the most profound narrative of denial and reconciliation I have read.

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