From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .
(re: Goodreads @ More Than This by Patrick Ness)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
- Myriad of interwoven genres.
- Characters are interesting, fun, and you can empathize with them.
- Undertones of philosophical and modern issues; life-lessons to be considered.
- The world building is unassuming but peaks with suspense at the right moments.
- The writing. Just that.
I was immediately drawn to this book as an answer to the question: what’s beyond the white light? It’s apparently a world of vintage memories and unnerving solitude. But is that it? Maybe. But probably not since anything we think we ought to know about everything is likely just a superficial layer of something much deeper. This novel, my first by Patrick Ness, is a resilient coming of age story even postmortem and it is as unpretentious as it gets.
I’ll tell you why.
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
The opening sequence is riveting. Honestly. As knowingly prepared you are to face Seth’s immediate death, the images are vivid, compelling, and I felt as though I was dying with him. And when he does arrive in the after-world, this unknown haphazard purgatory seemingly close to his heart, there is so much familiarity to be questioned. And this was a hit and miss for me: about 70:30 for the aforementioned. There were times in this first arc; the build-up, that I was truly fascinated with the world being painted for me. It was precise but claustrophobic, imaginative yet scary, and by the same standards I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. Sure, he faces several conundrums in lieu of the uncertainty before him but these were all built-up lacking substance aside from the suspense.
But surely there was more than this, right? No pun intended.
And then his dreams and memories started to kick in and we began to really understand who this boy named Seth was. This was a turning point for me.
We get glimpses of it: coming from an ordinary life with ordinary flaws. And like teenagers his age, the validity of actions non-centered around themselves is shrugged off because they are the world. And while that’s what truly mattered, it was all superficial. The real Seth, as we soon began to understand, is haunted by the consequences of his actions when he was younger; bringing him back to where it all started: the Hell he’s arrived into. Yet even though these memories were both terrors and joys in his life, they were undoubtedly the realest thing he could still hold onto. And that’s what I loved about the portrayal of memories: figments of imagination or not, they felt real to Seth and immaculately hit his senses. The transitions between the purgatory and dream world (memories) stayed true to what waking up really felt like: the abrupt starts and ends. And while we were given his life in bits and pieces, the narrative is remarkable and poignant— I really felt for this kid facing the unknown alone.
Furthermore, I was definitely not expecting the fact that Seth was gay; it came out of left field for me. No, I’m not against homosexuality at all. I was more irked with how the prejudices against Seth seemed to play out in his (past?) world. Case in point: it was a reflection of many parts of contemporary society and as stereotypical as it was, there is still so much truth to it. And that’s what I hate about it the most.
Between purgatory and his memories, Seth finds it increasingly difficult to function on anything besides his immediate needs because if he stops to think, his memories will burden him and remind him that he was brought here to where it all began: his home in England and his history with his brother Owen. This contrast is particularly important because in order to move on, he has to acknowledge his past. But how do you acknowledge the one thing that hurts you the most? This is inherently his character flaw that we come to grips with: his undeniable guilt.
[He hasn’t thought about it, really thought about it, for years. There was no reason to. Why dwell on your worst memory? Not if life had moved on, in a brand-new place, so many new things to learn, so many new people to meet.]
I loved that as an undertone, the entire Hell experience could have been an avenue for a dream being realised. Seth didn’t know better. And why would he? When dreaming in particular, the metaphysical isn’t necessarily questioned. Things don’t make sense and events usually happen sporadically in favor of the story teller. To Seth, everything was imperfect but aligned perfectly. When he needed water or food, it presented itself. When he needed acknowledgement, an animal appeared. When hope is lost and he’s alone (again) in this unbearable purgatory, he sees a living, moving thing. Friend or foe, this is where the story steers into the deeper underlying sci-fi plot.
[But it didn’t make him free.
He woke up here.
Here where there is nothing.
Nothing but a loneliness more awful than what he’d left.
One that is no longer bearable –
He is nearly there. One last turn. One more long street, and he’ll reach the base of the hill. He turns a corner –
And in the distance, far down the road in front of him, he sees a black van.
And it’s moving.]
Deep down, I’m sure everyone knew this was going to happen. But I’m sure the shock value is still there (somewhat, I hope). I’m reminded of that one line story: “You’re the last person alive on Earth and you hear a knock on the door…” It was one of those moments and I just couldn’t turn the page any faster.
It’s at this point that we’re graced by Regine and Tomasz, two additions to Seth’s narrative that provides another dimension of resolution and confusion to his predicament. Like I mentioned previously, as the master of his own story and universe, Seth more often than not questions the matter-of-fact solution that seems to appear on a whim when he fixates on the cause. While these characters help guide Seth to clarity, things are not as black and white as they seem and they’re both hiding from their own past. While I wasn’t always appreciative of delaying the inevitable information sharing via “we’ll tell you about it later”, I guess they can be forgiven since they were essentially being chased by Slender Man (or a deviation of such).
Tomasz in particular was stellar. Sure it may not be linguistically accurate (being his second language and all), but the fact that it felt broken and unnatural worked for me. His presence and out-of-the-loop quips definitely provided a sense of lightness to the whole morbid world.
Regine on the other hand appeared to be that friend we all knew who saw us for who we were even if we didn’t believe it to be true. She was safe, rational, and played devil’s advocate to Seth’s thirst for understanding.
In the remaining parts of the book, we’re brought deeper into the unknown to try to seek answers for Seth’s increasingly vivid dreams and his need to create meaning from them; particularly his beef with Owen (his younger brother). The onus of a revelation is still on Seth and that’s what the narrative is fundamentally about. But as questions have answers and his world becomes simpler; the matter-of-fact is that the world itself is much more complex than that. But interestingly enough, the sci-fi elements are actually downplayed more than I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s there as much as suspense and horror is integrated into this novel. But they’re utilised in such a way for the hero (and reader) to interpret and create value towards their own journey of discovery, not to be bogged down by the dystopian nature of saving worlds—metaphorically, he is his own world to save.
The final moments of the book are just that: a moment. A moment which can be perceived through infinite measures driven by the book’s namesake: more than this. The nature of the open-endedness creates so much meaning with so little. The fact that his journey in life, undermined by guilt, is overcame by self-discovery and acceptance that every experience cannot be seen in isolation of variables outside his control. That in order to grow up, a multifaceted choice needs to be made through realizing the past and its future. Because with any avenue taken, as desolate or terrifying as the choice may be, it’s still his to make. And there is hope in that.
[I’m the only real thing I’ve got, he thinks.
And then he remembers what else she said.
“Know yourself and go in swinging,” he says out loud]
//end nonsensical rant.
Let me know what you think! Whether it’s positive or negative, chirp me out and we can continue this dialogue.
Take it easy,