|Renay (renay) wrote,|
@ 2009-04-17 09:37 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||books, let's get literate! 2009|
If I have one quibble, it is that I think it should be sitting proudly on the shelf next to these books, rather than being hidden away in the "young adult" ghetto. There's been a lot of fury among authors recently about the proposal to "age-band" children's books, but in a way they're too late. The real disaster has already happened. It's called "young adult" fiction.
Stay classy, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Stay classy.
The part he did get right is that The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, is fantastic. Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown, the last town, full of all the world's got left: men. It's full of men whose lives were forever changed by the war with the Spackle, a war that ended with a germ that killed all women and left behind Noise. Noise is everywhere; the thoughts of men, overlapping, every dream and memory and hope and lie broadcast in every other man's head. There's no escape from it at all. Animals, too, talk and are heard. Todd lives in Prentisstown with his dog, Manchee, and his guardians, Ben and Cillian, as the last boy. In one month, he becomes a man. One day, that's like any other day, he and Manchee visit the swamp. There, they find something and everything changes.
They find silence.
It's hard to describe this book properly because I believe it's better going in if you know as little as Todd does. In fact, because of that reason this book does belong in the YA section and not just because Todd is on the verge of becoming man from boy and YA can be about coming of age. No, it goes deeper than that. As old as I am in this story I saw how the theme of the adult world storming in on a quiet, innocent youth, the rush of knowledge and power and expectations to suddenly shift from the person you are to the person other adults want you to be and how overwhelming it can all be. That is all packed into a beautifully built fundamentalist, dystopian world; it's never just about that theme of growing up and losing your innocence, it's in a package that's entertaining as a story but all too true to life. I seem to be reading a lot of books lately that remind me of The Handmaid's Tale. In a town of all men, the women lost to them, it's interesting to watch how the feminine has become so otherworldly or structured in a certain way. Women's mystery is part of Todd's past and his future, that he gets thrown into from a childhood he's already resenting, one month away from the time he won't have to be a boy anymore. That reminded me of how when we don't like the mystery of something, we can easily demonize it. In our patriarchal world, we do this to woman all the time: social structures like the media sexualize them and others demonize them for the very sexuality they were previously admiring. I think was one of the more interesting aspects of this book, after the Noise.
The Noise was amazing. The book's typography reflects the Noise Todd hears; different men have different fonts. The dust jacket of the copy I read didn't show it much, but the paperback is an excellent example.
It's not regular text; the looping scrawls and the neat typewriter print and the jagged lettering represent the Noise of men. The way the Noise is set apart lends really well to the story. It enriches it with personality for the characters it's used for to really good effect (and no always the shiny happy kind). I don't think it's heavy at all or encroaches on ease of reading. It's just the right amount of difference to make the Noise seem like this tangible thing Todd can never, ever escape from without distracting the eye.
I'm not going to lie, this story is tense. It's tense and it's violent and it's full of suspense and moments that are basically like a fist to the cheekbone and another to the right kidney at the same time. Events tumble down on you as you read and they do not stop. This book is like that bully you had or heard of in primary, that would jump an unsuspecting kid right after school and beat the ever loving shit out of him and laugh the whole while; the kid that would taunt and taunt and taunt until someone else cracked and the violence spilled everywhere. There are bullies and monsters in this book, terrible events and despair and hope is so fleeting and you can't latch on, here one moment and gone the next and its departure leaves you reeling. It's an adventure and a coming of age story like I haven't read in a long time, wrapped up in a package with traits that may surprise you. It's easy to love the characters, so easy, and then to be horrified and covering your eyes only to uncover them to read on. It hurts, if it doesn't hurt you're doing it wrong. It's not an easy story at all. I don't think it's supposed to be. Some stories are meant to break your heart over and over and over, throughout the journey and to the end and past that end—if there's one part of this book that enraged me but at the same time felt true to the story, to the world Ness built, it was the end. In a lot of ways, the end moment—the end of the path Todd finds, that moment from his perspective would be stretched out, unending—and it's this feeling Ness leaves us with, which, in my opinion, since the book was advertised as a trilogy, was really, really effective story-telling.
Many parts of this story charmed me. Manchee, in particular, even though Todd claims at the beginning that animals don't have much to say, quickly became my favorite character. It was fascinating watching Todd's relationships evolve, especially with Manchee. In the beginning of the book Manchee had me cracking up as he comments to Todd about poo (and how good it is to poo). Perhaps you have to read it to be charmed. Todd's chagrin at a dog he didn't want and how that changes as the story carries on was really well done. Manchee brings so much humor and heartache to this story; seriously, a dog was my favorite character.
The writing was interesting. Ness did something I normally hate in Southern literature: writing out the dialect. Most of the time the narrative is clear but other times words are spelled incorrectly. Creachers, direckshuns, partikalar just to name a few. This didn't bother me as much as it does when the book it actually representing people in the south. Language is a funny thing and the way Todd uses this misspellings make me wonder—is this how he learned them? Just because they're wrong to us doesn't mean they're wrong to him or that's not what the word looks like to the men of Prentisstown. Is it possible the mispellings came to him through his noise? Uneducated men passing down mispelled words to an uneducated boy? It's all very interesting in how it's done; purposeful; not just to carry across the dialect, which the dialogue and narrative do just fine. I really came to love Todd's voice.
Men lie, and they lie to theirselves most of all.
In for an instance, I've never seen a woman or a Spackle in the flesh, obviously. I've seen'em both in vids, of course, before they were outlawed, and I see them all the time in the Noise of men cuz because what else do men think about except sex and enemies? But the spacks are bigger and meaner looking in the Noise than in the vids, ain't they? And Noise women have lighter hair and bigger chests and wear less clothes and are a lot freer with their affecshuns than in the vids, too. So the thing to remember, the thing that's most important of all that I might say here in this telling of things is that Noise ain't truth, Noise is what men want to be true, and there's a difference twixt those two things so big that it could ruddy well kill you if you don't watch out.
In the grand tradition of me seeing what I want to see in every source text I inhale, I find it pretty telling that Prentisstown men all have issues with Noise; they all seem to be cold and distant and some abusive, except for Todd's guardians, Ben and Cillian. In the beginning of the story, Todd talks about Ben and Cillian taking him in—taking him in together, not joining together to take him in. My mind went one place. It was such a surprise and a pleasant one that in a town full of angry men, there were two raising a boy together and they were kind and loving and annoying and nagging and parents. It was just there, and you could see them as a couple if you wanted and if you didn't you could let it pass. Since it's never stated outright I could see how people might reject the idea. Two men raising a kid: so what? There's this passage, though:
"Hi, Ben." I look at the ground, kicking a stone.
And Ben's Noise is saying apples and Cillian and Yer getting so big and Cillian again and itch in the crack of my arm and apples and dinner and Gosh, it's warm out and it's all so smooth and nongrasping it's like laying down in a brook on a hot day.
An event later in the story that mirrors this moment has me convinced that Ben and Cillian were together, raising Todd between themselves—a gay couple right there in the thick of things, a gay couple, flawed and human and hopeful, who do the right thing and love Todd unconditionally. How lovely it was for them to just be there, unremarked, but plainly visible. If I hadn't loved the book for what it was, for what it was saying about power and control and identity and sense of self; if I hadn't loved it for its commentary on the mystery of women and the knowing and unknowing of that mystery, I would have loved it for this small moment in the book where two men who clearly care for one another at the least are powerful, positive parts of this story. Hearts, Patrick Ness. Hearts.
Although there's a cliffhanger, I still think the trilogy promises to feature everything I love in dystopian fiction. For those who have read The Hunger Games and are bemoaning the cliffhanger there, all I have to say is, you bitches don't even know. You got off easy. Wait until September when the sequel comes out to read this book or you will explode from the agony. You can be like me and import via awesome British friends, because The Ask and the Answer comes out there in May. Whatever you do, read it! I'm suffering alone when all I want to do is have meta conversations and write tons of Ben/Cillian fanfic with lots of make outs.
Crossposted at YA Fabulous!