In a mind-bending tale of contemplation about what happens after death, Patrick Ness’s 2013 novel, More Than This tore me to pieces like a dog and a rag doll. I started the novel uncertain of what in the world was going on, or what even the story’s genre was—whether it was going to involve zombies and aliens, or magic, or just plain-old teenage angst—stuff like that. Now till this day, long after I’ve finished the book, I’m still unsure of what exactly happened at the end, or what the novel’s reality was. Patrick Ness’s writing left me piecing together the clues alongside the novel’s unfortunate protagonist.
We enter the story with a boy named Seth, committing suicide by drowning. Instead of dying, he wakes up in another world—a quiet English street where his childhood home used to be, which after some contemplation, Seth considered to be his Hell. He ambled about his days in that Hell, thinking about his sexuality, his brother Owen’s affliction and blaming himself for the incident, along with other things that had happened in his life, until one day he encounters a black van driving around which sets the gears in motion for Seth to discover what that world he’s entered actually is, if it is death, or a different reality, or reality as a whole.
Patrick Ness’s way of writing pulls you into his world, but instead of clarity, you’re there whilst under an acid trip. His words and the tender way he treats his characters, good or bad, are like enchantments that lull you along in this mental trip. It was difficult to tell whether, after his death, Seth and consequentially the tone of the story would encounter that of zombies, aliens, vampires, alternate realities, machines, robots, Hell, purgatory, absolute nothingness, reincarnation, or on and on the list goes. He leaves you questioning, like Seth, and even if the reader didn’t identify with Seth before, the journey you both take together through this author’s frightfully bleak post-mortem fantasy would leave you both feeling closer to each other.
This sense of questioning had me turning the pages, and I found myself often switching my mind between what I thought I might be able to expect next (aliens; a small part of me will always bet on aliens), which was also wrong most of the time in regards to what Ness actually decided to make happen. The journey of the narrative was a psychotic roller coaster, and the characters, flawed but real in their own ways, were leaping off the page.
Ness was brilliant at beginnings, and equally awesome with the build-up in the middle. The ending, I personally loved, could be a bit debatable for many people, since it feels a bit too simple, too anticlimactic—like you were expecting more than what you got. This seems, however, to go back to the novel’s main premise: an open conversation about what happens after death, which, logically, could include anything a person can imagine, as while death is universal the idea of what happens once we die is also uniquely individual.
I suppose you don’t have to like the author’s ending, since he’s talking about death, and that’s his interpretation of it. I don’t entirely agree, but I loved the story, and the way he got the reader there to the end. The book, if it had hands, choked me in its clutches. It was a wonderful read, and I remember spending an entire day being that crazy person at the coffee shop, pouring over this thing, devouring the words up.
I apologize for this review being so short. A significant part of the charm of More Than This was not knowing what to expect, so I really don’t want to say too much as I understand I have a tendency to spoil.
This is a highly recommended read for a thoughtful night, or even a night where you want a substitute for a psychological drama (maybe thriller…?). It was unexpectedly immersive.
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“Know yourself and go in swinging…”