International Writers Magazine: Knife of Never Letting Go: Author Profile
a place where everyones thoughts are spinning around their
heads brazenly for everyone to see; where your neighbours are physically
dressed in everyday thoughts, anxieties and trivial wonderings.
You can scarcely think aloud yourself before everyone knows your
innermost dreams and humiliations, and you barely make sense of
them as the fog of noise is loud enough to drown them out. This
world is a reality in Patrick Ness award winning book for
young adults, The Knife of Never Letting Go, newly available
in paperback from Walker Books
I must admit I
hate writing reviews for books Ive really enjoyed, as all my friends
will tell you I am a complete spoil sport and get overexcited and spill
all the plot twists and secrets within minutes of telling them to read/see
something. So bear with me and Ill try to be good.
Its Ness third novel, but his first for young people. Or
in his own words: appealing to the bright eleven year old who
aims high. I am sitting in a lecture theatre at the University
of Portsmouth preparing to listen to the bestselling writer talk about
his work. Young, charming and humble under the watch of an eager audience
he prepares to read from the book.
Todd, the young protagonist is nearing thirteen,he is no biblical hero.
His opinions and lazy, phonetic spelling have a distinctive accent of
teenage boy along with something else I cant put my finger on.
When Ness starts reading in Todds voice the story comes alive
in a whole new way than on paper. The Noise (Ness capitalisation,
not mine) becomes much more apparent as the words tumble out of Ness
mouth, and the discovery of silence in the swamp hits me with more vigour
than when I first read it. Of course you dont need to carry around
a thirty something American novelist whenever you feel like a read,
Todd is vocal enough on his own I promise. Todd aside, the world that
Ness has created is incredibly imaginative and full of subtext to disturb
and provoke challenging young minds. The idea behind it though, was
I find the world to be very noisy, he explains, what
if the next logical step is that you cant get away?
Then theres the inclusion of a favourite device of childrens
literature, animals who chat away companionably; spilling secrets out
of their furry little heads. Except Todds dog Manchee and the
squirrels, crocs and sheep they meet along the way make the Animals
of Farthing Wood look ridiculous. Ness explains that he always hated
talking dog books. All Manchee ever wants to do is eat and poop, and
this, Ness explains, doesnt make him any less loveable...but
funnier and richer.It is obvious that Ness writes exactly as he
pleases. Theres a queue of stories in my head waiting to
be told, and Ive never got any success writing what people want.
It would be easy for a new childrens book to be lost in the flood
of books being printed every year and it took 45 tries and only 4 responses
from agents to get his book on the shelves, but The Knife of Never
Letting Go apparently is what people want as it won the Guardian
Childens Fiction Book of the Year award for this year, and more recently
the Booktrust Teenage Prize. Which with good reason Ness is delighted
He says that teenagers are a fantastic audience! Very demanding,
they wont take any crap and they ask the most awkward questions,
which would definitely harness his opinion that writing isnt
for wimps!Its this brazen attitude and confidence that give
the book its edge. Ness hated books where the bully and victim
became best friends, where multi racial kids held hands and skip
around like a Benetton advert. Consequently, this book does not depict
a perfect world.
Todd is no older than 14 and Ness treats him mercilessly, no one Todd
loves is safe and Ness is not an author to keep things comfy. Unusually
he does not plan the whole book before he writes. Instead, it is a fluid
process of 1000 words a day with vague direction towards a pre-written
exit line. In other words, anything can happen and it isnt giving
anything away to say that a lot of unexpected stuff does.
Apologies for the vagueness, but like I said Im trying not to
be a spoilsport. What I will say is this: a particular scene in The
Knife of Never Letting Go caused me to put the book down in irritation
and wonder what on earth was wrong with Patrick Ness? how could he write
such an exciting story with likeable characters I want to be friends
with, and then do that? Apparently other people felt the same, and Ness
defence for uncomfortable things to happen is that they always
feel right, its like telling the reader Im not messing about,
this shouldnt happen, but it does.
Then I worked out what it was that was interesting about Todd that I
couldnt put my finger on, he spoke with reality. The book is a
fantasy, some might even call it science fiction, but Ness shies away
from any implication of genre with a little grimace. Hes not afraid
to do things genre doesnt dictate; just because its written
for young people doesnt mean it wont handle issues that
older people face. A constant theme of Todds is that hes
waiting for his 13th birthday to turn him into a man, but theres
more to becoming a man than a date on the calendar. It could be suggested
that Ness no-nonsense approach to story-telling and the challenges
he puts both Todd, and his readers through could throw new light onto
what really separates the men from the boys.
Davis December 2008
The Knife of Never Letting Go also won the Booktrust Award for best
young fiction of 2008
The Beverely Birch Interview
The Linda Regan interview
Marling Review by Aby Davis
Knife of Letting Go review
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