Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness

Review 4: 'The Knife Of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness

Synopsis: Poor Todd is the youngest boy in Prentisstown, a primitive, isolated village surrounded by swamps infested with dangerous animals and (maybe) genocidal aliens, and that's not even close to the worst bit. You see, just after he was born, a biological attack by the aforementioned aliens apparently left all the women dead, and all the men and animals uncontrollably broadcasting their thoughts to anyone nearby. Oh, and in a month's time he's due for the village's secret rite of passage into manhood, and whatever it entails, it certainly left his former childhood companions oddly changed and distant. Frankly, Todd is fucked. The only thing in his favour is the fact that this is a Young Adult book, so while the Noise produced by a men-only village of telepaths is pretty disturbing, I can't help but feel that an adult version would be so much worse.

Review: We're very much inside Todd's head throughout the book, and he's a distinctive narrative voice. The writing is colloquial and idiosyncratically spelt, reflecting his lack of schooling (the sinister mayor of Prentisstown disapproves of education). Initially Todd knows next to nothing of the outside world, and precious little even of the village and its inhabitants, and though this may be a convenient story-telling device, it's also a plausible character note. After all, given his environment, he's well-practised at avoiding ugly truths and hiding his thoughts, even from himself. This was one of the few books that a substantial number of people read on our holiday, and while some found this writing style grating, the majority (including me) seemed to enjoy it. The setting is unconventional and pleasingly fluid, weaving together elements of SF, fantasy and horror; there's even a Western feel to the low-tech land of villages separated by wilderness.
The central concept of a telepathic world is handled powerfully and convincingly: calm, disciplined people can communicate in sentences, but crowds produce a baffling cacophony and when emotions run high, thoughts fragment into uncontrolled phrases and images. The different people and villages that we encounter display a credible range of coping mechanisms, at both personal and societal levels. And of course there are the telepathic animals: Todd's faithful dog Manchee blurts urgent verbs and nouns, birds squawk "Where's my food? Where's my house?", crocodiles float muttering "Bone... Flesh...", and the sheep just repeat "Sheep"... It's a likable, vivid, action-packed book, and though it's practically one long chase scene it doesn't get repetitive or wearying and allows its characters time to reflect, learn and grow (whether they want to or not). Some of the best Young Adult fiction I've read, and despite that brand I had (and have) no compunction in recommending it to all but the most curmudgeonly.

Suggested pull quotes for the next edition:

Sure to be a hit with the ever-growing 'knifecriming teenager' demographic!
It will leave you shouting "Poo, Todd! Poo!"

Warning: That second quote is absolutely true. Well, that's the effect that it had on our group, anyway.

Illustrative excerpt from Amazon reviews:
* * * * *
The book made sense and the plot progression was fabulous as our young male hero left Prentisstown. The dog also became less annoying...
Tags: books, reading week, reading week 2008, reviews

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