I have just finished reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – part of the reason why I have been quiet on the blog for a while. That and I have been writing a guest post for Findingmycreature, which will hopefully be on her blog sometime in November.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a stunning book, one that drags you along from the first sentence to the last. I have learned a great deal from reading it, as it consolidated some of the lessons I have been taught through reading blog posts such as Kristen Lamb’s on the role of conflict and Annie Cardi’s on the importance of voice in Young Adult literature.
The voice of Patrick Ness’s main character, Todd Hewitt, is so well realised I almost wept with envy. It has made me revisit my Young Adult book, Dragon Wraiths, and realise there is little distinction between my voice and my lead protagonist’s voice, despite Leah being 20 years younger than I am. I have a lot to learn about creating the voice of a teenager and I may have to wait a decade until my daughter is one before I can recreate the voice as authentically as Ness has.
The book also has conflict in bucket-loads. There is conflict in every scene right through to the very last line. The pace is relentless and the story so compelling it made me sit up until 2am to finish it, even though I knew there was a chance the kids would then kept me awake the rest of the night (they did).
However the book also left me bereft and unsettled because (for me) there was too much conflict. Even when there was the occasional scene without conflict, I knew it was just creating the calm before storm, setting up the irony for when it all went pear-shaped again.
I’m a Libra, we like balance and harmony. My inner peace is wrenched apart by too much conflict. As a result, even though I accept the advice from people like Kristen Lamb about the importance of Goal – Conflict – Disaster, I find it very hard to write. My attempts either become terribly predictable: Oh look, my character is happy, let’s throw some crap at them and make them feel rotten, or I shy away from the places where I could ratchet up the tension and let my protagonist off far too easily.
Reading through Dragon Wraiths I found myself noting again and again – Make more of this, build up this scene, make it harder for Leah. When there’s a sentry in Leah’s way he doesn’t chase her for a league making her terrified and sweeping us up in her fear. Instead he’s distracted by his grumbling tummy and she sneaks past. Another security guard is conveniently on the floor above when she needs to avoid detection. She’s running from the authorities but not once is she approached by a policeman or gets accosted by some busybody in the street who has seen her face on TV. The entire book has less conflict than an episode of Noddy.
I guess the problem for me is that my life is full of enough (generally internal) conflict that I read to escape. At times in The Knife of Never Letting Go I found myself skipping ahead during the most tense and dramatic scenes, to find out the end result, because they were so drawn out I couldn’t sustain that level of suspense for so many pages. It was so expertly written, and I was so caught up in Todd’s exploits, particularly as a result of the very intimate first-person-present prose, that I had to metaphorically hide behind a cushion for some of the scenes. Only Doctor Who ever normally makes me do that (and the only characters in Doctor Who that have made me do that since I was eight are the Angels).
All that aside, Patrick Ness has written an amazing novel with a brilliant concept, 4D characters (my favourite being Manchee the talking dog) and enough things to get me thinking about my own characters’ voices and motivations to keep me re-writing Dragon Wraiths for a decade. It’s just a shame about the cliff-hanger ending. The characters were left in danger. I hate that. And I’m not ready to read the next one in the series yet. After a novel that edgy I need at least three Georgette Heyers to restore my equilibrium. Now, where did I put Friday’s Child?