Tuesday, 18 April 2017

#CBR9 Book 33: "The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness

Page count: 479 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Todd Hewitt lives in a community peopled only by men, and has one month left until he too becomes one. All the men are afflicted with something called "the Noise", meaning they can hear each other's thoughts, all the time, all over town. There were women in the community once, but they didn't survive the infection that brought the noise. Todd's mother was one of the last women to die, while Todd was still a baby.

While Todd and his dog, Manchee, are out walking in the area around Prentisstown one day, he comes across a place with no noise whatsoever. This is very unusual, and when he returns home to the two men who raised him, they are worried enough by his discovery that they bundle him up and tell him to leave. There are other men in town who suspect they know what Todd has discovered, and want to stop him at any cost.

Todd is confused and upset, not to mention surprised his foster fathers have been able to keep secrets from him at all, what with all the Noise all the time. He's given a backpack of supplies, a journal with a map in the front and a knife to defend himself with and sent on his way with Manchee as his only company. He has to go through the swamp surrounding the town and leave the only home he's ever known. As Todd runs for his life, through the swamp, chased by hostile townsmen, many of whom he grew up with, he discovers the source of the mysterious silent space. As he gets further away from Prentisstown, he also discovers that there is a lot more to the world than he ever suspected, and many of the truths he has grown up believing, may in fact be nothing but clever lies.

I knew very little about this book, except that it's the first book in a very acclaimed YA trilogy. The one thing I did know probably qualifies as quite a spoiler, but I'm very glad that I HAD been spoiled, as I knew what to expect and was less gutted than I probably would have been if I had gone into this book without any fore-knowledge. Suffice to say, I cried a LOT when the bad thing that happens happened and generally also want to warn people that this book really is a very grim read.

In many ways, this book is like the book version of The Walking Dead (the TV show, not the graphic novels, although I suspect the same applies there). There are characters that you get attached to and care for, constantly running from danger, only narrowly escaping. Every time you think they may be safe, more horrible things happen, and they have to go on the run again. The things chasing them, as well as the individuals they meet along the way, are often equally horrible.

This is a really depressing and gruelling book, but it does contain an interesting sci-fi with a concept I hadn't come across before. I think the toxic masculinity that permeates so much of the book kind of wore me out though, and since I'm already in a bit of a reading slump, and have trouble motivating myself to read anything at all, this book wasn't exactly the best of choices (but it fit into so many of my reading challenges!).

The noise affecting all the men is obviously a horrible thing, but it's supposed to be. I doubt this series is called Chaos Walking for nothing, as that is what the men wandering around in large groups are described as. This incessant drone of thoughts, impossible to ignore, unless there is some other noise around to drown it all out. There's some sort of virus that has affected all animals and livestock, enabling it so that they can talk. This of course means that Manchee the dog has even more of a personality than a cute sidekick dog might otherwise have had. Because he's a dog, he's not exactly capable of great mental leaps, and his conversation can be rather simple and single-minded, but it did make him extra adorable.

The reader follows Todd through the story, and only really knows as much as him. Hence you also discover more of the world around him as he gets further away from Prentisstown and learns new things. Now, any sophisticated reader who has consumed a fair amount of stories will probably construct theories as new little snippets of knowledge are revealed, and I'm very sad to say that I had figured out the truth behind Prentisstown before Todd himself figures it out. That's another thing that makes the book so depressing. At any point where there could be more than one possible outcome, the most tragic and sad option will always come to pass. There appears to be very little goodness in this world, and if there is, it will likely be snuffed out in short order.

This is, as I said, the first volume in a trilogy set in this dystopian sci-fi world, and the book ends on a cliff-hanger. I have the other two books in the series, in paperback even, gifts from friends. I will absolutely read them at some point (desperately hoping that there will be some kind of reform at some point and future books may be happier), but I am not in a good place to be reading anything but fluffy escapist literature right now. It's clearly a good book, but very not what my brain needs in times of fatigue and high stress.

Judging a book by its cover: My paperback copies of the Chaos Walking trilogy all have pretty simple and understated covers. There's the plain white background, and on this there is a silhouette in red of the knife, I'm going to assume the same knife that plays such an important part in the story - the same knife the book is named for. The bold black title looks scrawled by hand, and is the same that is used inside the book to show the "noise" inside the heads of all the men. It's a fairly plain cover, but effective nonetheless.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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