#prose, books, review

A Monster Calls : An emotional ride into the mind of a child

I don’t read English YA novels.

Even with my almost thirty summer long life, I have been less inclined to surf through the pages of Harry Potter or get engrossed in The Divergent; my adventures have been rather haphazard. From William Golding’s spine-chilling ‘Lord of the Flies’, or the rather mainstream  ‘Perks of being an Wallflower’, or the will-make-your-glasses-foggy ‘The fault in our stars’, as a reader I haven’t followed a pattern, or a phase.

Maybe that has helped me more.

The story about this novel started two months back. I consider myself a medium level Otaku, and one of my staple activities is to surf through YouTube going through piles of documentaries, movie trailers, gameplay videos, tech stuff…

…and may be a couple of parkour fail and cat videos.

I saw this movie trailer featuring a relatively unknown boy, a Lord of the Rings-esque tree monster voiced by our favorite Zeus Liam Neeson, a terminally ill mother played by Felicity Jones, and a whooping two seconds of Sigourney Weaver. The movie was being directed by the same man who made The Orphanage, one of my favorite horror movies. Win-win, right?

Then I saw that it was based on a bestselling novel. Sure, every movie these days is, I thought. A casual search on Goodreads, and a few reviews later, I was downloading the book in my Kindle.

And then I totally forgot about it and went with Jack Kerouac for his exhilarating USA road trip. When I was going through my library, the intriguing cover piqued my interest (yet again), and being the lazy reader I was, the relatively short page count gave me a sudden New Year’s boost. I am to read twenty-five books this year, amIright?

A day later, I was feeling as if someone had punched me hard on my stomach. The book challenged the notion of ‘Big boys don’t cry’ and came tantalizingly close to overcome it. A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness, is a fruition of Siobhan Dowd’s concept. Dowd, a British YA author, died of breast cancer in 2007. Patrick picked up the idea and gave it shape and out came the book.

The book’s main protagonist, the school kid named Conor O’Mally is going through a rough time. Between a terminal, divorced mother and in-school bullying, between a deadpan grandma and a non-existent, living in a different continent father, he lives and relives his nightmares. There are two nightmares in his life, one that manifests when he is awake, the acerbic lashes of sympathy, and the one that he dreams of – a recurring ravenous thought, the cause of which he cannot really put a finger on. Or he is too scared to admit that he is tired of living a life that is too scrutinized, too scripted, too straight, even though that may be the only thing holding his frail idea of a family together.

Along comes a monster, a wooden, Yew tree on bipeds, one that is intent on telling stories more than raising a feeling of dread.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

“Because humans are complicated beast,” the monster said. “How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a parson be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen?”

Conor is apprehensive, as all of today’s kids are, that this is a figment of his tired imagination.

“I don’t know,” Connor shrugged, exhausted. “Your stories never made any sense to me.”

The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.

Once that veil is removed, the interactions spark a series of events in Conor’s life that ultimately starts to untangle his knotted existence, and many a new secrets are unraveled, and wounds are made and healed. In the end, confronted with arguably the book’s most tearjerking moment, Conor accepts his nightmare.

And lets go. The freefalling Conor becomes the real Conor, devoid of the strings around him, flying high, even though the pillars that he stood on are no longer present. He builds the castles from the sand again, the monster watching and smiling. The brilliance in Ness’ writing is that you never realize whether Conor and the Monster are the same. He hints at the fact that the Yew tree has always been there, watching over their little family, growling to life only when someone yearns for it badly, manifesting itself with a wand of justice that is brutal yet fair. The tales are hence wondrous, and tests the notions of a little mind.

I wanted to cry after reading this novel, but hey, big boys don’t cry. The feel good moments are aplenty here, even though the words are less. Patrick Ness has created a beautiful story here, and I am eagerly awaiting the movie now. If the movie is half as good as the book, it will be spectacular.

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#prose, books, review

Cujo : The dog is not the monster

I am on a Stephen King marathon it seems.

Unlike Pet Sematary, I did not remember Cujo the movie. I knew the basic premise. So it was about a rabid Saint Bernard dog wrecking havoc. The earlier book gave me a nice glimpse into King’s writing technique – that his novels weren’t just your run of the mill horror story, but they provided a unique point of view, a subjective analysis of human psyche and character that was often very sad and cruel. In Cujo, King is in his familiarity, and the story is again in Maine, where he lived a great deal. Castle Rock was a quiet neighborhood, so close yet so away from the business of New York or Boston or other big cities. Life here was on a different tone, often rolling off to borderline out of sync with the civilization that ran on steroids. Hence the story of a rabid dog that may have been a normal story in the cities turns out to be a vicious chapter in the town’s history.

Stephen King was in the peak of his drunken-abusiveness when he wrote Cujo, and he has largely admitted that he doesn’t remember the book. I think that factored in building the bleak spine of the story, a rigmarole that is relationship – be it between a married couple, or between parents and kids, or even between a child and a dog, and between a dog and his keepers, represented here with excruciating detail. It is beautifully summated in the ending quotes where King narrates:

“It would perhaps not be amiss to point out that he had always tried to be a good dog. He had tried to do all the things his MAN and his WOMAN, and most of all his BOY, had asked or expected of him. He would have died for them, if that had been required. He had never wanted to kill anybody. He had been struck by something, possibly destiny, or fate, or only a degenerative nerve disease called rabies. Free will was not a factor.”

Indeed free will forms a great part of this story. A woman’s free will to speak up against an abusive marriage, another’s free will to choose her path amidst a tumbling relationship and the mid life crisis – to a man’s free will to save a marriage, to a vindictive ejaculation of another man in a fit of rage, ending up to the dog’s fate of being a slave to the will of a disease, an abomination that took control of him, the mind’s forces are characters of their own in Cujo. Stephen King goes one up when he introduces Cujo as a perspective and not a third-person character, something that completely changes the way the novel reads, and it is fantastic. The gradual degeneration of his mind is almost as deplorable as the crumbling relationships around him, and the fogginess in his brain, the sharp pains in his mind and body, the slow, screaming death of his self-conscience except the blurry notions of MAN, WOMAN and BOY are eerily similar to the blurred lines of a human mind as it struggles to distinguish good from the bad. The ending is hence not surprising at all, knowing King would have liked it to end it that way, and it shows in a way that the dog was just at a bad place at a bad time, just like the Trentons, just like the Cambers, just like Sheriff Bannermann.

So this is a sad story, but why does it rank as horror? Writhing inside the story of a dog gone bad is the unnerving undertale of a monster, something that lurks inside a kid’s closet, often manifesting itself with glowing eyes piercing through the clot of darkness, prying open the door ever so slightly. Is it the dementia that was brought by Frank Dodd the serial killer? Did he never die? King never really divulges into that, and his intentional omission gives Cujo the novel a supernatural chill that elevates it from a regular tale of a rabid dog rampaging around a quiet town.

In the end, Cujo is a read that requires a little patience since it takes time to enter the world of Castle Rock. Once you enter, there is no turning back. The second half is a rabid page-turner (no pun intended). Stephen King’s Cujo is at its best when the Saint Bernard is on its paws, lunging at unsuspecting human beings, tearing them apart. It is also at is worst when Cujo is on his paws, lumbering around like a lifeless husk, too fragmented, too hurt to think, too restless to die. In a way Cujo represents excessive alcoholism of King, a story returned from the otherwise inaccessible, fucked up places in the corner of his mind.

Recommended.

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