The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
|The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: A compelling, original and pacy future dystopian book with great originality and a dollop of wonderfully observed humour. Bookbag doesn't approve of the cliffhanger ending, which is the only thing keeping it from a five star rating.
|Date: May 2008
|Publisher: Walker Books
Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown. In just a month, he'll become a man. The last man.
There are no women in Prentisstown, a human colony on another planet. The women all died when the Noise came. And the Noise was a virus unleashed on the unsuspecting human settlers by the native species, the Spackle. Oh, Todd knows the history of Prentisstown alright. He can't avoid it. Noise is other people's thoughts, you see, and every man in Prentisstown can hear every other man's thoughts. Life is a continuous shock of Noise from one's own, to one's neighbour's, to one's pet's and even from the squirrels in the trees and the crocodiles in the swamp.
Todd and his rather wonderful dog Manchee - who has a limited vocabulary largely confined to Poo, Todd, poo and is my favourite character - lead a tense life in Prentisstown, buzzing with the pressure of other people's secrets and thoughts. Until one day they discover a tiny pocket in the swamp where Noise does not penetrate. This discovery opens holes in the received wisdom about the Spackle, and Noise, and the death of the women, and Todd and Manchee find themselves fugitives, fleeing to another settlement they hadn't even known existed. Along the way they meet Viola, one of a band of potential new settlers, orphaned when her parents' shuttle crashed.
I loved, loved, loved The Knife of Never Letting Go, right up until the bit where it said End of Book One. And then I was annoyed. Gah. Cliffhanger ending. Again. I don't like cliffhanger endings in books - even in series. And I particularly don't like them in books for children, even here, when the target audience is very definitely teenaged. The next instalment isn't out next week - it's usually next year, and by that time any desperation we felt to find out what happened next has entirely dissipated. I wish everyone would just stop with the cliffhangers already.
But this is my only criticism of a wonderful, wonderful book. Now it's out of the way, let's move on to the good stuff. The Knife of Never Letting Go is well thought out, it's tense and exciting, it's original, and it has welcome dollops of wry humour, some of which made me laugh out loud. Manchee, the poo-obsessed dog, is particularly well observed and I fell utterly in love with him. The setting is a popular one - a future dystopia in which society has responded to trouble by regressing, and it reminded me of Jim Crace's The Pesthouse. It's ominously credible.
A fugitive chase forms the main narrative and the thematic background is picaresque - this novel is all about coming of age, finding independence and young love. The Noise isn't a blessing, but it is a security and Todd struggles when it's partly taken away. Like most teenagers, he's longing for freedom and privacy but total independence is a rather scary thing. Through Viola, who has no Noise, Todd learns how to share willingly and comes to understand a valuable balance. But this is all in the background, and the main thrust of the book is the chase - which is pacy, tense and hard hitting. It's classy stuff and highly recommended to all keen readers who don't mind waiting (sigh) for resolution.
My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is in the Top Ten Dystopian Books For Children.
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