Saturday, 5 April 2014

Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy

I read Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go - the first book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy (for 'young adults'/children/teens) - a long time ago. I soon resolved to review it, but never really got round to it. Many different approaches competed in my head, but some time later an unexpected solution came along. I wrote an essay on it for university (essentially about the technical elements i'd learned from reading it) and thought that my concluding paragraph did a good job of highlighting what i found compelling about it. I hope you do too. If you fancy reading a better review, check out this friend of mine and all-round good bloke Neil's post. But here's mine anyway:

One could go into much detail in any examination of an author's work. There is always a lot to learn, whether it be things to take up or things to avoid in the future. In Ness' case, it seems to me there is no technique that would be considered detrimental to quality of writing. His strong characters are the first and most important step to making his narrative believable and, perhaps more important, enjoyable. Their language, not to mention the way it is represented by the author, help[s] to estrange us from our own world and make the invented one more alive. Language and form have both been inventively used to his ends, and so consistently in the novel's structure that the believability never wavers. His research, which we can see has provided much of the content of his work, has not so much made a lie from the truth as simply estranged the truth, and this strategy of awareness and reforming truth is the very beating heart of all artistic endeavour and something that, with Ness as an example, we can all learn from.
I realise that this is quite a dry style, and maybe as a 'pure reader' (i.e. you ain't been bitten by the writing tarantula) the writer-centric view may make my review boring. I hope not though.

That paragraph is just to do with the first book, though, and now i shall waffle a wee while about the rest of the trilogy (and beyond!). With each sequel book we get an extra narrative voice, which is great fun for the readers and presumably a massive, but hopefully satisfying, challenge for Ness to conquer. As you may expect, the scope of the novels grows also (i'll say it grows exponentially just so i get to use a big word...).

The first book is essentially anchored by two people running away from danger together. They don't leave each other's side, so the action is all mediated through one joint perspective (if that makes sense?). The second book, The Ask and the Answer, has two perspectives. You'll recognise them both from the previous novel, especially Todd, the main character. The third installment (what an ugly word :( ), Monsters of Men, grants us another, radically different viewpoint. It's worth reading them just to see how a good story can be told, and how it can progress and grow, but it's entertaining enough to not bother studying these structural elements.

The last thing i want to say is that Ness has written three short stories that accompany the novels, and they are fantastic in their own right. As vivid and as action-packed as you could hope for in stories ten times the length, they are just wonderful. I find it so enchanting that the author has such drive that he wanted to give more hints, more back story and generally more entertainment to fans of the series. There's hardly a bad word i can say about it all, honestly.

I'd certainly advise you to check them out. You may be like i was and saying 'that's not my type of thing' (i'm not a massive fan of science fiction in general), but yet i was surprised. A man as cynical as me can't even criticise books that aren't even in my favoured genre... Ness must be a genius.

Peace and love.

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