Monday, July 13, 2015

Book Review: THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

Rating: Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

This. Book. Was. Brilliant. When I saw it in Barnes & Noble, I hemmed and hawed because I’d read the first chapter already, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest the money and the time into it. I guess it had struck me as a little weird, and I didn’t think I was in the mood for weird. Fortunately, my mother is brilliant and wise and she encouraged me to take the chance. Have I ever mentioned how much I love my mother?

In THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, the men and animals of Prentisstown can hear each other’s thoughts (all their women are dead), and there’s no way to block out the constant stream of sound. The information overload is nearly unbearable. But amidst the maddening chaos, Todd Hewitt stumbles upon a patch of silence—a girl whose mind he cannot read—and soon he begins to realize he knows far less about his planet and his people than he previously believed. (I mean, how cool is that?)  

There were so many things I loved about this book, I could yammer on about it for hours and hours. But I promise, I’ll try to restrain myself.

Manchee. MANCHEEEEEEE! Oh my goodness, I am in love with that little dog, and I generally find dogs annoying (yes, I am that sort of person). But my darling baby Manchee, oh I could just kidnap him and keep him for my own. In the beginning of the book, Todd does not like Manchee, the “useless” birthday present he was given instead of the fissionbike he wanted Cillian to fix for him. But despite Todd’s grumbling, and despite the fact that he makes it clear early on that he doesn’t like Manchee (how foolishly misguided of him—for shame), Manchee doesn’t seem to notice at all. He is so happy-go-lucky, so good and loyal and innocent and adlasflkads;ladsfkl;. I LOVE THAT DOG. I doubt there are any better friends to be had, and I love how Todd begins to recognize this (albeit slowly) and to appreciate Manchee more and more. Oh, my Vulcan heart just broke.

Todd and Viola. These two are the best. They are so perfectly awkward, and Todd is pretty much my hero. Time and again he has the chance to kill his enemies, and time and again he restrains himself. Of course, HE sees this as cowardice/weakness, but I know it’s not—I know it shows a greater strength of character than he might ever realize. And despite the fact that he’s a bit of a whiner with an adorable chip on his shoulder, he bears up under his predicaments remarkably well. All in all, I was pleased with how Patrick Ness handled Todd’s character growth.

And then there’s Viola. At first I hardly knew anything about her, but that didn’t bother me since I recognized that it was a part of Ness’s genius storytelling. Because we see the world directly through Todd’s eyes, and because Todd can’t read Viola’s Noise the way he can with everyone else, both Todd and the reader know next to nothing about Viola. Like him, we only learn stuff about Viola through her speech and through her actions. Not every writer could pull off this feeling, this melding of reader and character, but somehow Ness manages it. In fact, I think that, more than anything, helped to draw me in.

Todd’s Voice. But I can’t discuss Todd without mentioning his voice. This book has to be written in the most unique style I have ever seen. Todd is basically an uneducated hick, and rather than sticking to dialogue that reveals Todd’s lack of learning, Ness has the entire narrative flow the way Todd’s thoughts would—complete with misspellings, run-on sentences, and grammatical errors. I felt like I was poking through Todd’s head (or rather, overhearing his Noise). Now, I wouldn’t recommend this style for everyone. It’s not the “mistakes” that make it brilliant, it’s the way Ness uses these “mistakes” as a tool. In almost anyone else’s hands, it would have looked amateurish and sloppy. But in this case, it worked. It just worked.

World-building. Everything about Prentisstown and the landscape around it felt so tangible, like I could just step outside and enter the swamp or find myself strolling down the road on the way to Haven with a knife in my hand and a bunch of angry horsemen after me and loyal dog named Manchee at my side. I could see everything without even trying—the colors of the countryside and the cast of the sky. It stuck with me long after I finished the last page.

Pacing. I was never bored, not even for a moment. Often, when I’m reading books I like, I’ll come across a scene or two I think could have been tightened or nixed altogether. But in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, everything was perfect, everything made sense, and everything worked to drive the story forward while broadening the world and ratcheting up the tension. I had to force myself to read slowly, because I could have gobbled that book up in a heartbeat.

The Noise. This is a brilliant concept. I recall seeing Ness mention that the idea came to him when he got thinking about how we live in an age of information and how information overload is a genuine concern. Or something like that—I’m not quoting him. More than anything else in the book (except MANCHEEEEE), I love how he translated this concept into a world where people simply can’t escape a constant onslaught of information. And the inexplicable grief that Todd feels when he brushes up against Viola’s Silence—when he realizes he cannot hear her thoughts, that she is an area without Noise—oh, it was the best thing ever. The despair at being trapped in a world where there is no privacy, no quiet, and then to find someone living in their own little bubble of hush—no wonder Todd originally assumed that there wasn’t anything going on inside Viola’s head. And then the anger he felt, and the way he came to terms with this—it was just brilliant. That is all.

I only had one problem with this book.

The Language. It isn’t too, too bad, I’ll admit, and usually Ness doesn’t use the actual words. But I’m not a big fan of the “f” bomb, even if it’s just hinted at, so I would have appreciated less of that. I will admit, though, that the way he uses it does help to characterize Todd (and I never use that as a justification—this is a major exception). So, six of one half dozen of another, but I’d rather have done without it.

All in all, I love this book. If I could, I would PAY people to read it. I would wrestle it from the jaws of a hungry crocodile if I had to. (Granted, I would probably lose, but I would try.) It is one of those rare stories that almost made me cry, even though I knew what was coming since I read the synopsis first (yes, I am the kind of person who will occasionally do that, when I’m not, like, you know, reading the ending ahead). And oh, THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO has a wicked cliffhanger. I got to the end and I was like, “Wait, what do you MEAN it’s over? Surely you jest.” Soon, hopefully, I will get my greedy paws on the sequels, and then my life will be complete. But in the meantime, you NEED to read it (you know, if you want) so we can all flail about it together.


  1. I LOVED THIS ONE TOO BUT I'VE BASICALLY JUST FALLEN IN LOVE WITH ALL OF NESS' BOOKS AND WRITING AND NO ONE SAVE ME BECAUSE THESE BOOKS ARE SO SOOOO GOOD. I confess, I had trouble to start with. It was too...noisy. XD hehe. But after I got into the style and the weirdness and past 100 or so pages, I was hooked. I'm holding off reading the rest from the library because it's a series I want to own so I'm saving up for it. :') I'M SO SO GLAD YOU LOVE IT SO MUCH.


    1. I HAVE NOT READ ANY OTHER NESS BOOKS AND I NEED TO, LIKE, RIGHT NOW. I did have some trouble with the first chapter, because the grammatical weirdness threw me off. But as soon as it got going, I realized I actually really liked it. And yes, it was noisy. :P Same for me--I want to buy the next books before I read them, so I may not get to them soon.



  2. Ok, I realize this is an old post but I finished this book the other day and WOW. The awesomeness killed me, so I went out and bought the rest of the series :)

    I am needing your opinion on this, though. In Prentisstown, a boy becomes a man when he kills someone. The novel keeps mentioning that war makes monsters of men, and that men are chaos walking. (Which I agree with. People do pretty nasty stuff to each other in war.) So if we assume murder=war, and we know both Todd and Viola kill someone, then are Todd and Viola monsters?

    1. Don't worry about it--I love getting comments on old posts. AND I'M SO GLAD YOU LOVED THE BOOK. The rest of the series is great too.

      This is an excellent question. In a sense, I think Patrick Ness was implying that most everyone in the trilogy are monsters, including Todd and Viola. And I think there's a certain extent to which they, but their guilt and their desire to behave differently set them apart from other monsters. Ness deals with this question even more in the next two books, and I don't want to ruin it for you, so I won't say anything else. But once you've read them, I'd love to know your opinion.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  3. I liked the first book. I want the rest :))

    1. It's so good! I hope you get a chance to read the rest soon! :)

      Thanks for commenting! :)