Patrick Ness Messes With My Head

September 8, 2013 § 3 Comments

Please note: this post may contain some unavoidable, implicit spoilers for Patrick Ness’ new release, More Than This. If you are particularly spoiler-sensitive, do not read ahead. You have been warned.  

On the topic of The Matrix: I was nine when The Matrix came out, and I was too preoccupied with ponies and Goosebumps novels to have the slightest interest in seeing it. Somehow, I didn’t get around to watching it until I was twenty one, twelve years after its release. Although the suspended-motion action scenes were much less impressive in 2011 than they must have been in 1999, I, a twenty one year old living in the age of information, was deeply disturbed by the concept that we might legitimately be living within the Matrix. While most of the movie-going public had struggled with this in the year 2000, I had to wrestle with the philosophical implications of an artificial online existence long, long after the bandwagon had departed. I still think about this from time to time, and the concept makes my head spin. It’s awesome, in the literal sense of the word.

What if...this is it?

What if…this is it?

More Than This was my introduction to Patrick Ness. Although I’ve been meaning to read the Chaos Walking trilogy for ages, I sort of just never got around to it. I picked up a copy of More Than This simply because it was beautifully presented and the blurb was intriguing. I started reading that night, and thirty six hours later, I was finished.

Seth died.And then he woke up.

He’s alone, in the English suburbs where he grew up, and he has no idea why. Is this hell? Is he having a comatose hallucination? Or something else entirely? Struggling with his very real feelings of starvation and dehydration, Seth begins to explore his new state of existence. While he’s searching for edible food and trying to avoid a malignant presence that seems to dog him, he’s plagued by excruciating flashbacks of the life he abandoned when he walked into the sea. He recalls his relationship, kept secret from everyone around him, and its painful conclusion. He is forced to think about the horrible incident that brain-damaged his little brother.  He contemplates the cold manner in which is parents treat him, as though he were secondary to all else.  As he walks the empty world, this becomes his afterlife.
  After what feels like an eternity of solitude, Seth is astounded to find that he’s not alone in this bleak, empty world. A small, sarcastic Polish boy named Tomasz and a fierce black girl, Regine, emerge from the background of his personal hell, and they form a unit. Slowly, so as not to shock him, Tommy and Regine reveal to Seth the way in which they came to be in the world they now inhabit. Together, the three begin to unravel the series of events that led to this vacant landscape of their post-death.

Patrick Ness' More Than This Cover

Patrick Ness’ More Than This Cover

Told in the bleak afterlife where Seth materialises after his death, and in a series of flashbacks which gradually reveal the tender joys and shocking betrayals of his suburban life, More Than This requires a fair bit of effort to get through. It explores some disturbing concepts, and I was surprised to find that it took a lot out of me to process it once I’d finished. There is a clear fascination with death, and in particular, the way a person died and what this means for them in the afterlife. Ness addresses the concepts of guilt, accountability and forgiveness in the adolescent world, and manages to do so without sounding either preachy or unrealistic. For me, the most disturbing aspect of More Than This was the suggestion that people, as individuals, contributed to an eventual “tipping point” which constituted a world-wide apocalypse.

Encapsulating elements of The Matrix and The Lovely Bones, More Than This is truly heart-wrenching. It simultaneously explores life after death and a bleak, post-apocalyptic future from the perspective of a vulnerable and mistreated young man.

Once I finished this book, I was emotionally exhausted. The book explores some disturbing concepts, including death, and it took a lot out of me to process the narrative through the prism of such in-depth philosophy.  One could say that it is a kind of reverse-Matrix, which, as you can imagine, just about did my head in. I loved it.

More Than This is an example of the true potential of both the young adult and post-apocalyptic genres. Patrick Ness has made use of his teenage protagonist and the trials and tribulations of navigating a post-apocalyptic wasteland to explore the fabric of reality in a brutally modern fashion. Present-tense narration and shifting time periods make it a jumpy read, but Ness uses this to his advantage. The end result is a turbulent, addictive read which had me reeling, both emotionally and mentally.

More Than This is one of those books that puts all other reading material to shame for just a little while. Once you finish it, it’s hard to remember why you ever read a book that wasn’t as good as this one, and why you ever would again. It doesn’t matter what kind of books you like, or if you even like books at all. Just read it. You’ll be glad you did.

As an added bonus, here’s Peter Gabriel singing More Than This, the song that inspired the novel’s title.


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