Review: More Than This, Patrick Ness

PATRICK NESS PATRICK NESS. I love me some Patrick Ness, and here is his brand-new book coming out tomorrow so PLACE YOUR ORDERS because Patrick Ness is amazing.

The beginning: A boy called Seth drowns. When he wakes up (from death), he is at the house in England where, through some unspecified but terrible fault of Seth’s, an unspecified but terrible Event with lasting neurological consequences befell his younger brother Owen. Seth has not lived in England for years; his family lives in America now, and he goes to an American school and has American friends. But here he is — dead, evidently — and all alone in this long-empty house on a long-empty street in a long-empty British town.

This is…a lot of aloneness. Where are the other people? There is too much aloneness! Is this going to be a mystical sort of book where he’s all alone the whole time and the only other characters we meet are in the flashbacks? And then it ends with him finding peace? I really don’t want that to be what’s up.

The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight blank spaces to see them): Oooo, wow, y’all, that is not at all what is up with this book. I discovered many juicy details from the end. I also did some judicious searching around to discover what exactly happened to Owen, because the last chapter or so wasn’t giving up the secret. Evidently Owen got kidnapped by an escaped convict and found three days later, and he was not the same after that (Seth was supposed to be watching him). Also, apparently, Seth drowned himself on purpose. The other characters (hooray, there are other characters) and Seth all seem to be substantially unimpressed with him about this.

But the real news from reading the end is that something is legitimately up with the world Seth is in. It seems like a sci-fi kind of situation (unclear), and Seth has these two afterlife buddies who are figuring shit out with him. I am so glad I read the end. I am now very excited for the rest of the book.

Note from the future: Turns out there were some fairly key plot points I did not catch on to by reading the end. That’s okay. That can happen sometimes. I’d like to mention them here, but I want to be truthful about what it is like to read the way I read.

The whole: Fwoof. At the beginning of this book, Patrick Ness describes what it is like for Seth to drown, how he keeps getting buffeted by wave after wave, and he can’t catch his breath, and it never ends. This is not altogether dissimilar to the experience of reading a book by Patrick Ness. The night before the day I finished reading More Than This, I stayed up late reading — intending to finish it! — but I hit the two-thirds mark and needed a breather. Because Patrick Ness really really does not let up. (You will know this if you have read his Chaos Walking books.) It’s just event after revelation after revelation after event.

To be clear, I loved it, and I expect I will love it even more when I own my own (physical) copy. There is something about the experience of turning the pages of a Patrick Ness book that is imperfectly recreated when reading electronically. I loved so many things about it that I just want to rave and jump up and down, but instead I will be try to be chill and enumerate its virtues in measured tones.

The fault in More Than This is that it is a little slow to get going. Ordinarily one does not imagine that one will have to read the end of a Patrick Ness book to gain momentum, because if there is one thing the Chaos Walking books have, it is momentum. More Than This begins with Seth spending an awful lot of time alone in his new world, being pleased that he’s found a windbreaker or whatever. Luckily there are flashbacks to his life before, and the events that led up to his drowning, and those were wonderful and melancholy and touching. But Seth’s aloneness depressed me. I wanted more things to be happening in his weird afterlife present.

Maybe a third of the way through, Seth meets up with two other denizens of his strange afterlife world, Regine and Tomasz, and then we are off to the races. The events in the afterlife are suddenly so gripping, and meanwhile we continue to learn more about Seth’s life and what happened with Owen and what happened with Gudmund. This moment — when he meets Regine and Tomasz and the Driver — was the moment at which I realized I was going to be up very, very, very late reading this book.

I love about Patrick Ness how he treats diversity like a given. I am not sure how to describe this. Regine and Tomasz and Seth all come from very very different backgrounds, and their gender and ethnicity and sexuality has made a huge difference to the people they are, but none of those things are the point of them — as people or as characters. Indeed, one of the themes of this book — a theme I loved so hard and I bet Ana did too — is that no one thing is the point of anyone. Not your demographics nor your saddest day nor the worst deed you ever did are the point of you. People are always more than this.

More Than This also features a healthy dose of plausible deniability. Regine and Tomasz are certain they know what’s happening, and they are able to find plenty of evidence to bolster their beliefs. Seth believes them, mostly, but there are times when he thinks that this might all be happening inside his head. Because he and his friends are in perpetual danger, he has to act as though the world is real. Still, there are times when he has serious, serious doubts about its reality. The case for what Seth believes is not weak. The case for what Regine and Tomasz believe isn’t weak either. Patrick Ness doesn’t resolve this, and I love him for not resolving it.

Again I say: This book is wonderful. If you have been curious about Patrick Ness but haven’t wanted to commit yourselves to a whole trilogy, pick up More Than This. You can thank me later.

Note: I received this review copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

19 thoughts on “Review: More Than This, Patrick Ness

  1. I read this, and it took me a while to love it, because there was so much to think about, and Ness never makes it EASY. You have to think and think. But I kept chewing it over and in the process realized how brilliant it was! But he NEVER resolves things – I sort of HATE having EVEN to think about the ENDING!

    • Oh I loved the ending. But I do love an open-ended ending. Did you see Ana’s post about the Ness event she attended? I loved that Ness described the structure of the book as being, the first third asks what is going on, the second third says this is what’s going on, and the final third asks are you sure? So true.

    • You may be scandalized by the suggestion, but maybe skip ahead? Just flip some pages forward until you get to the bit where he’s hanging out with other people. It’s much better once that happens.

    • Oh God, tough call. The Chaos Walking books are quicker to gain momentum, but More than This is a more polished book in a lot of ways (not least because it has a more polished narrator, by design). So I guess it depends on your priorities. I love the Chaos Walking books fiercely, and I also remember having major reservations when I finished the first one (and close to zero reservations when I finished the second).

  2. “I love about Patrick Ness how he treats diversity like a given.” YEEES. There were hints of that in Chaos Walking already, but what he does with it here is so awesome. I love you post, and I love that we’re review twins today :D

    • Me too, he’s so awesomely casual about it. I love him. I know it’s greedy to want more books by him when I’ve already had two new books by him this year alone, but I am already wondering when his next book will appear.

  3. Yay! So glad you liked this one. But seriously, can Patrick Ness write a book that is NOT emotionally wrought? I feel like it can be so emotionally exhausting to read him due to all of the tears.

    • Hahaha, yeah. I don’t cry that often in books, so for me it’s not the tears so much as just the INTENSITY. It’s like the way I feel after I’ve watched a horror film, just all tense through my shoulders. It can be a little tiring.

  4. “More Than This begins with Seth spending an awful lot of time alone in his new world, being pleased that he’s found a windbreaker or whatever.”

    HA. I actually HAVE been wanting to try some Patrick Ness but didn’t want to start a whole trilogy, so I’ll be on the lookout for this. Sounds weird.

  5. OH MAN. I am so out of ALL the loops. I LOVED Chaos Walking. Next time I feel like I can handle a Patrick Ness book, I’m totally picking this one up.

  6. Pingback: Book Review: “More Than This” | The Cheap Reader

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