Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dystopia Review #16: The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008) is one of the strangest books I have ever read. It's also one of the best. I had very little idea of what it was about when I picked it up from the library except that I had heard somewhere that it is dystopian. And is it?

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown. Prentisstown isn't like anywhere else. It's not on Earth. There's no women. And everyone can hear each other's Noise. Noise is thoughts--words, pictures, feelings. So there's no secrets.

A month from his thirteenth birthday, the date when he will become a man, Todd stumbles across a well of silence, and what he finds there forces him to run.

So, no secrets. Well that's a lie! This novel is one big secret. Keep in mind that when I say this book is strange, I don't mean obtuse or confusing. Rather, The Knife was exceedingly easy to read and understand, which is another reason I'm giving this book a great big recommendation. Three cheers for complex but thoroughly understandable plots!

It's written in Todd's Prentisstown vernacular, all yer dog and desperayshun and effing this and that. It's almost a stream of consciousness, but not quite. The writing is far more grammatical than Todd Hewitt could ever manage, and thank goodness for that because actual stream of consciousness writing drives me nuts. Patrick Ness uses just enough slang and bad spelling to give the impression that we're hearing Todd's thoughts, and that's a magical thing for a writer to be able to do.

It's also rather funny:
The girl just looks at me, her forehead still creased, holding her cut.
Which is kinda bleeding a lot.
"Stick, Todd!" Manchee barks.
"And where the hell were you?" I say to him.
"Poo, Todd."
I make a "Gah!" sound and kick some dirt at him.
Oh, the animals can talk too, by the way. But this isn't a fantasy novel. Everything has a scientific basis and the events are set sometime in the future, which makes this a sci-fi novel. A sci-fi novel with a decidedly dystopian flavour. Todd's escaping from one of the most oppressive, religiously fanatical, nutty societies that ever was. And the villain! Oh the villain. He's like one of those horror movie killers that just won't bloody die even though they've been eviscerated and shot and stabbed and beaten to a pulp.

Tangent: I'm going to make a wild stab in the dark here and say that many dystopian novels are written by atheists, for atheists. My reasoning is purely anecdotal: there are so many stories about society collapsing and being ruled by a totalitarian religious faction. It could also be that dystopian fiction wasn't invented until after Charles Darwin cried "Apes!"* because it takes a special kind of gloomy, one particular to atheists, to realise that if you have a shitty life, there ain't no puffy cloud waiting for you in the afterlife. This is it. So it better count for something. And that's a pretty important theme in dystopian fiction. End tangent.

By the time the truth is explained to Todd Hewitt, he's already worked the truth out for himself, and so has the reader. But that's okay. It's rather satisfying to able to say smugly, "I know already. Cheers for the update, though."

One little bug-bear: There's this whole big thing about no one being able to hide their thoughts from anyone else because of the Noise. But things are hidden from Todd his whole life, and things happen, big things, that he should hear because no one can keep secrets. But secrets are kept just the same. Which doesn't make a lot of sense. But, again, I'll go along with it. It's the only tiny weakness in a great big wonderful book.

The Knife is a fabulous modern addition to my challenge. As I progress I keep thinking to myself, "this is my favourite of the challenge" ... "no, this is!" I'm going to have to have a good debriefing post to get it all straightened out. But that aside, if I gave ratings The Knife would get 10 out of 10. Five by Five. Gold stars baby.

Book two in this series, The Ask and the Answer, was just released last month. So no agonised wait to see what happens next, yippee!

*Actually, "Finches!" would be a better approximation. Here's a bit of trivia for you: On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. The word dystopia was coined in 1860.


  1. Great review! I've had this book in my TBR pile for ages, and I've just never gotten around to reading. :( I've been wanting to for a while, but something puts me off. Maybe it's because it's so big... I didn't know the sequel was already released! Yay!

    - Alex

  2. Yeah so I'm not actually reading your review b/c I don't want a hint of spoiler, but didn't realize it was dystopian. yay!

  3. So glad you liked this book, Rhiannon! I loved KNIFE as well - my only quibble really was with the cliffhanger ending! GAAH! Seriously, cannot wait for the sequel.

    And oh, I want a Manchee of my own.

  4. Definitely read it guys, it's well worth it! And it might look long, but because most is dialogue lines and paragraphs are about three words long. So it's not as dense as it seems.

    Yeah, the cliffhanger ending was totally unfair, but at least I knew it was coming. Not like The Hunger Games, which I thought was a standalone. Boy, there were screams that day!

    And Manchee! Dear dear Manchee... "Ow, Todd?"

  5. I've been wanting to read this for awhile! I will get to it eventually...!!! Great review!

  6. hmm interesting tangent. I'm an atheist and I am a huge fan of dystopian lit. I don't know if I'd say that my life has been shitty though. lol Complicated,yes! But shitty?

    Anyhow, I have both of the books in the series sitting on my shelf. I wish that I didn't have so many other books to read first. After reading this fabulous review I want to start them now!

    P.S. I absolutely heart your blog. Would you be interested in doing a link exchange?

  7. Sounds good! I added it to my wishlist

    There is an award for you on my blog :)


  8. I keep hearing this is so greta, but I put it down after the second chapter,...It just didn't hold my attention:-0