Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go - an attempt to get over myself

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008: Walker Books Ltd). In a world where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts, a boy starts to find out that most of what he’s been told about his town and its history has been a lie. The truth puts him on the run from those that would hide it. The chase brings him into contact with people and places he never even knew existed.

In an attempt to get over myself this week, I said yes to a challenge.

You see, my wife is a big fan of what she calls “young adult” books. Harry Potter is probably the best example, but then it was Twilight, then the Hunger Games, and now it’s a series called Chaos Walking.

Now, my assumption has always been that these books are not targeted towards me. Their audience is designed to be teenagers. I assumed that, if I spent some time reading them, it’d be wasted time – that they’d miss the mark with me.

And that was fine. It wasn’t an indictment on the quality of the books themselves. Just an acknowledgment that they weren’t designed for me. And everyone was happy.

Except, of course, my wife. She insisted these were worth a read and that, by being so closed minded, I was missing out.

To be fair, she probably has a point.

So one of my wife’s good friends challenged me to read her latest recommendation. She’s good a good line in recommendations, this friend. She’s a children’s librarian, and is always a step ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest craze in the genre. (She’s also got a highly entertaining blog of her own that’s worth a visit).

So, challenge accepted, I picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy.

And I found that I’d been wrong, though not entirely.

The book is good. Let’s get that out there right now before there’s any misunderstanding. It took me a little while to give it a chance, but by the end of it I realised that it had a number of good points. It’s an interesting premise. It’s got a breakneck pace that sees the pages speed by. It’s written cleverly. And it’s set in a highly original world.

All in all, high above what I was expecting. But then again, I was expecting it to be rubbish.

It did though (and my wife’s going to hate me for this) live up to enough of my prejudices to spoil my enjoyment of it a little.

I just couldn’t get over the fact that the protagonist is 14 years old. I know, I know, I’m a cold-hearted git. But when the strongest voice coming off the pages is that of a child, then I find it tough to take it too seriously. At times, the writing was so good that I forgot that this guy was 14, but it never lasted long. And every time I remembered, I disengaged a little.

Also, I had a bit of a problem with the plot. There was so much of it. The whole book is one long plot. Non-stop action. A chase that lasts nearly 500 pages. As a way of catering for the short attention span of its intended teenage audience, it works. But for me, it felt like there was no room to breathe. There was no room for the characters to grow. For meaning to appear between the lines. Everything we learn about everything is right there in black and white. I just didn’t have to work hard enough to pull my own conclusions out, and that meant I never really had to engage fully in this.

Perhaps most damning was just how little I cared at the end. Fairly horrific things happen to the heroes of this book, and mortal danger is always around the next bend. But I only ever half cared about their fate. I was only ever faintly interested to find out if they all got out alive. And a large part of that is because the characters never really had the time to come off the pages for me. They stayed resolutely pinned to the black and white of the plot. They didn’t become real people in a way that made me care.

Apart from maybe the dog. The dog, I cared about.

But, and I’ll say it again, the book is good. For all the nit picking I can do, I cannot deny that I enjoyed parts of it, that the writing was both clever and creative, and that I’ll probably go see the film once it’s inevitably made. Patrick Ness has made me realise that “young adult” fiction has far more good points than I gave it credit for. It has its inherent down sides, but they are often overshadowed by imagination and energy.

As for a score, well that’s difficult. As a young adult book, this would score pretty darn high. As a book that I’d recommend to you guys, I’m struggling.


When all’s said and done, I would recommend you go pick this up. Give young adult fiction a chance. If you’re like me, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. If you’re a better person than I am and are able to get over your pre-conceptions of the genre a little more successfully, you might even end up enjoying it enough to pick up the second and third books in the trilogy.


Emma said...

I'm very proud of you. Now go read The Hunger Games.

PaperblogPrincess said...

Yayyyyyy taking the challenge! I suppose that I now have to find a boatload of white chocolate Reeses...
Even though you only halfway enjoyed this one, I would still recommend finishing this series. The first is my least favorite; the last one was the best in my opinion. They got much more sophisticated and toy with the idea of morality, ethics, leadership, terrorism, politics, and the good and evil in all of us in a way that I don't think I've ever seen done quite so subtly and/or frankly, well, in any teen literature, and even (oh snap!) some adult literature. You are right that adults are not actually the target audience, so many of the ideas and concepts introduced are in ways novel to a teenage "I am my own entire world and you are scenery" reader. And yet they are important, no? I would so rather give a kid this than Pretty Little Liars. Or something else. You are right this book does live up to some major stereotypes (getting rid of adults, and making them almost all bad, except the lovely Ben, for example, but only in this book). But what you don't realize, this being your first YA, is just how gently and well Patrick Ness does this, when other authors writing for the same audience just shove it down your throat. What did you think about the subtle gayness? That was pretty deft, no? Also, the questioning of blindly following anyone or religious ideas? I thought it was cool(also alarming) how (spoiler) the different ways the villages had learned to cope with the Noise. I love that about this series, it's not a "let's all spend time and talk about it and share our feelings" thing; things are mentioned and you move on. And also, MANCHEE. Best dog ever! But seriously. Get on-board the everyone's doing it already train and Hunger Games it up for summer!

Anonymous said...

if you're atking on challenges, how about a graphic novel? There's another form of literature that gets more stick than it deserves?

The ones I would recommen (in order) are Watchmen (if you haven't see the film), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, or Batman:Year One.

You really need to read at least one to make this blog thing complete don't you? I mean you want to do this properly right?

Of course, you may not be the sort of person who is bothered by the kind of galring ommission. Maybe that's not the sort of thing that plays on your mind as you try to sleep at night. Except I know for a fact that it is.

Kind regards,


P.s. let me know if you want to borrow one of the above.

Gav Collins said...

Thanks all. Yup, I am glad I read this. I was def impressed with how well Ness wrote and how subtly he introduced some big ideas. I just felt the format didn't give nearly enough time for the ideas to really and truly take root.

All said, I think I can safely say this won't be my last YA book, but I may revert back to type for a few grown up reads first. I've grown, but haven't quite yet signed up for the t-shirt. .

And yeah, a graphic novel sounds worth trying. I'll give Watchmen a try - never saw the film, so worth a pop.

Katie H said...

I am SO excited about reading this, your wife also suggested the Twilight series to me, after two pages I was hooked!