Sunday, 20 October 2013

More Than This, by Patrick Ness

Is it a part of the human condition that we all feel, somehow, that there has to be ‘More Than This’? More than what we have, more than what we know, right now? But if there is more, what is it? Where is it? And what if it’s not at all what we’re expecting?

A boy is dying. He’s drowning, spluttering, gasping; it’s not an easy death. He dies. And then he wakes up. Is this heaven? Hell? Or somewhere else? He’s all alone. Or is he? Everything he thought he knew about the world, about himself, his parents, is about to be brought into focus and questioned. Everything you thought YOU knew about the world, yourself, your parents, is about to be questioned. What if what we think is real, isn’t? What if a choice was made, years ago, that you can’t undo?

When Seth dies, he wakes up in a place both familiar and fathomless. Just when he thinks he is beginning to understand it, a new layer and then a new layer and then a new layer is revealed. Even when you think you know - when Seth thinks he knows - what is going on, you are still left wondering whether it’s the whole truth or just another layer. Patrick Ness plays with this and bends our perception of reality in a multitude of ways, blurring the boundaries of time, of life and death, of the virtual and the real. Although packed with action, he writes in a way that is kind of slow and steady, but instead of drawing away the intensity, it makes it feel as if we’re viewing the story through a glass, darkly, adding texture and another subtle layer of the surreal to Seth’s experiences.

In More Than This, Ness has created a world that is at once explained and unexplained. Is it the future, or is it the now? He simultaneously answers all the questions his writing raises - almost as they pop into my mind – yet without actually really answering them; it’s a book that could be filled with holes, but by the end, none remain. And it’s a book that at first glance is something entirely different from his most popular previous work – The Chaos Walking trilogy – but which quietly nudges its way close to the ideas and techniques used and interpreted in that previous world.

More Than This is surely the most extraordinary book of the year. It is mind boggling, it will strip all speech from your brain. It will make you want to grab hold of Patrick Ness and shake him and ask ‘Why?’ over and over again. But it’s a book that cannot be explained without ruining it - I cannot précis the plot any further, or give you a run-down of the settings or the characters because in order to appreciate its sheer wonder and brilliance you have to experience the unfolding story for yourself. The most important thing that I can tell you about More Than This is that you simply have to read it.

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