An open letter to Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go

Wow, Patrick Ness, color me super impressed.  Way to create a distinctive, consistent, memorable voice for your protagonist.  That isn’t easy.  I have not read a book where I enjoyed the narrator’s voice so much since, mm, The Book Thief, and before that The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  Which are two of my all-time favorite books.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is based on a fantastic premise, that the aliens in this settled world have given the settlers the disease of Noise, which killed all the women and left the men able to hear each other’s thoughts; and then the youngest boy in the settlement of Prentisstown finds a girl.  A live girl!  The book is fast-paced and exciting and frightening.  The title is perfect.  The relationship between Todd and Viola is utterly real – all the relationships are, actually, and even though this is a plot-driven book, damn, Patrick Ness, you just nail those emotional moments every single time.  Like this?  (Major spoilers in the block text below, so skip to the subsequent paragraph if you haven’t read the book.  Even if you don’t care about spoilers – if you haven’t read the book, you won’t know how great this is because all the context isn’t there, but trust me, it is great.)

Ben nods again, slow and sad, and I notice now that he’s dirty and there’s blood clotted on his nose and he looks like he ain’t eaten for a week but it’s still Ben and he can still read me like no other cuz his Noise is already asking me bout  Manchee and I’m already showing him and here at last my eyes properly fill and rush over and he takes me in his arms again and I cry for real over the loss of my dog and of Cillian and of the life that was.

“I left him,” I say and keep saying, snot-filled and coughing.  “I left him.”

“I know,” he says and I can tell it’s true cuz I hear the same words in his Noise.  I left him, he thinks.

Ouch.  Also, chills.

And you know what else, Patrick Ness?  Since I have gotten started talking about the good things about your book, and how it’s just everything that’s great about being great?  What else is, hooray for you, portraying a gay couple without making a big thing of it – we know they’re a couple because they act like a couple, not because you (the author) gets all THESE ARE TWO GAY PEOPLE THAT ARE GAY; they are just a couple, and that is nice, and it is normalizing, and there should be more of that going on in literature.  Oo, and, okay, also?  Aaron was about the dreadfullest villain I ever read about in my life.  (That isn’t a spoiler – you can always tell he’s insane.)

Here’s the thing, Patrick Ness.  You already did it!  You already created Todd’s voice!  You did it using only your words!  Your achievement is a remarkable achievement, because it is damn hard to create a voice like that, and you did it ever so beautifully.  Why, why, why did you need to do that silly dialect thing?  “Yer” is not necessary!  “Cuz” is not really necessary either!  And I can assure you that there is no possible world in which “conversayshun” would ever be necessary, because that is how the word is already pronounced.  It’s not an accent.  It’s how you say the word.  And “an asking” instead of “a question” is both silly and jarring.  It mildly chagrins my dazzle to see you relying on dialecty crutches this way, when Todd’s voice, and the atmosphere of the world you’ve created, are already just about perfect.

Since I am having a moan anyway, here’s my other (teeny-tiny) gripe, which contains massive spoilers.  I feel like the Big Prentisstown Reveal could have happened sooner.  At least part of it could have happened sooner.  I say, tell about how they killed all the women earlier on in the book (have one of the townspeople tell Todd, or something) – we pretty much figure that out anyway, right?  It’s part of the emotional arc of the story, but it’s not the central part.  The reveal you want to save for close to the end is that Prentisstown keeps on killing their own, to allow the boys to become men.  That is what’s crucial to the events that occur immediately after Ben tells it to Todd – plotwise and emotional-story-arc-wise.  Plus, if we already had the reveal about the women, we would think, okay, we’re done, now we know why nobody likes Prentisstown, and then the other thing would really slap us in the face, because it is pretty chilling.

(I mean, it wouldn’t slap me in the face.  I would already know because I would have read the end (as indeed I did!) and found out what was what.  This was helpful to me in making judgments about where each reveal should have occurred.  Reading the end: the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye.)

Once I get started complaining, I can’t stop, so here’s my last complaint.  Patrick Ness, WHY ARE YOU BRITISH?  And also WHY DID I NOT READ THIS BOOK SOONER?  My sister has just now returned from Ireland, and if I had read this book like, like two days sooner, I could have told her to buy me the sequel, which is out in the UK now but not out in the US until September.  I really loved the books I read last week, but I would have loved them a few days later, and then I could have had The Ask and the Answer on Thursday when my sister comes all the way properly home.

To conclude, Patrick Ness, you are awesome, and future books would not suffer if you eighty-sixed the fakey dialect bit.  Also (spoilers!  Spoilers!), given that this book turned me into an emotional wreck, you, um, you could go ahead and have it turn out that Ben is still alive.  And, um, I mean, Cillian too.  That would be fine.  It wouldn’t mess up anything!  I would be happy!  Todd and Ben would be happy!  We would all be happy!  I wouldn’t feel like you had cheated!  Just if you wanted to have it turn out that way.  I only mention it.

Kisses and hugs,
Jenny

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
Bart’s Bookshelf
books i done read
Becky’s Book Reviews
Confessions of a Bibliovore
Fantasy Book Critic
Librarilly Blonde
The Well-Read Child
Wands and Worlds
YA Reads
YA Fabulous
Karin’s Book Nook
The Page Flipper
Reading the Leaves
Bookannelid
Lisa the Nerd
Kids Lit
Bitten by Books
Books and So Many More Books
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Let me know if I missed yours!

  • I have heard so many good things about Patrick Ness – I think it is about time I read one of his books.

    I love it when people enjoy books this much! Great post!

    • I say go for it! You’re in the UK, you can read the sequel straight away and not have to suffer until September! I’m extra impressed because this is apparently his debut novel.

      • Oo, I tell a lie. It’s his debut novel for young adults. That makes me feel slightly better about myself.

  • I haven’t heard of this one, which I’m pretty sure leaves me WAY out of the loop. lol It sounds great, though, and you really had my attention when you wrote about the narrator’s voice and mentioned The Book Thief. Right on!

    • I only read about it recently, and got it out of the library on a whim – just because I saw it there and remembered I had read a review of it. It’s pretty brutal though – lots of violence, on- and off-screen. If I’d known how violent it was, I might not have read it, but I’m very glad I did.

  • I was going to say there’s less dialect in the second book, but it might be that I was used to it and so I noticed it less. It also helps that Viola narrates half the book, and she doesn’t speak like that. Anyway, I’m glad you loved it too! I will have to pay more attention to the pacing when I re-read it. This time around I was too anxious to get to the end to really notice!

    • Second book. Oh how I want to read the second book. Curse my insistence on finishing up the books I had already started before beginning the Patrick Ness one. But thanks, by the way, for the recommendation – you always tell me good books! 🙂

  • Schatzi

    Adding that to my library list, only … conversayshun? Really??

    • I know, right? I swear I was sat there with the book for ten minutes trying to figure out any way in which “conversation” could be pronounced any way other than “conversayshun” and I came up with nothing. But the book absolutely makes up for it.

      • Maia

        He says, “conversayshun” because he can’t read or spell for that matter.

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  • Teresa Rolfe Kravtin

    Patrick is not British, but an American living in Britain.

    I left a longer message on Farm Lane Books Blog after I saw that she didn’t like Knife like she thought she would after reading your review. I can understand. I was won over by a hyper-enthusiastic fan myself, and now I’m waiting with bated breath for the third book, which I hope will tie up all the loose ends somehow. But knowing what Mr. Ness has done to us so far, I doubt it!! Painful!

    I’d love to have you join and contribute to the FaceBook group for the Chaos Walking Series. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=109855269768&ref=ts

    Serious fans there! Your open letter to Patrick Ness is great. Come join the conversation!

    • An American living in Britain? That’s even worse! If he would only live here I would get his books first. (I am greedy.) 😛

      I am so very excited about the third book. Can’t come out soon enough for me.

  • Teresa Rolfe Kravtin

    Yes, my friend the hyper-enthusiastic fan ordered The Ask and The Answer from the UK earlier this year, rather than waiting on the US publication! He will do the same for Monsters!

    There is a link to a letter from Patrick Ness, which is a prologue story which gives some background for Viola. That is on the FaceBook discussion group.

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  • Jenny and your fantastic posts. I did not read the end, this was one of the few books where I was able to resist, but it was difficult and heartbreaking, I tell you! Must have been so difficult to read this when there was no chance of reading the follow-up soon, with that cliffhanger.

    I agree, the accent is a little jarring. But I loved everything else so much that I just.. had to accept it and only gush about the book 🙂

  • Hey, doing some post-read searching, found your post. I appreciate your love + critiques.

    Though I too found the Todd-spelling affectation distracting and annoying, I figured it was there to underline that he didn’t know how to read. Doesn’t make too much sense because there’s never any textual event showing them recording their stories, though.

    I loved that there were gay characters (only pairs of men, though?), but I can’t fully agree with your congratulations about “portraying a gay couple without making a big thing of it”. I’m a big homo myself and I wasn’t even sure until the third book that it wasn’t just my eager reading. There needed to be two male parents for the good dad/bad dad-ish interplay post-women death.

    It seemed understated almost to the point of invisibility, perhaps to avoid raising the ire of conservatives?

    The reveal of 1017’s partner being male was another weirdness. I’m attuned to the pronoun game so I definitely noticed that it wasn’t mentioned. Maybe delaying the reveal was a way to challenge the heteronormativity of readers? Maybe people assumed female and would be surprised.

    Queer visibility in writing is a funny catch-22: explicitly naming it can be awkward, forced, and othering but blending it can make it invisible.

    I could write so much more, maybe I’ll have to write about it elsewhere!

    Thanks for your post, regardless, and I’m going to check out The Book Thief some time.

  • Love.
    And “mildly chagrins my dazzle”. 🙂

    SO many things I liked very very much about this book and thus the pain.