There But for the Grace in Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness – Chaos Walking Trilogy Book Three

It is with a measure of sadness that I share the last installment of Patrick Ness’ astounding Chaos Walking Trilogy: Monsters of Men. 

When characters grow on you, it is often difficult to let them go and move on to the next. This is a huge tome of a book, and you’d need to take a breather every now and again to prepare you for the next onslaught of emotions and rapid-fire description of war and pain and anguish. I am glad though that I have dusted the book off my shelves and I have managed to conquer this for our current bimonthly theme Dusty Bookshelves and Library Loot – as we felt that we need to get crackin’ on our TBR stack.

I am the Circle and the Circle is Me. This mantra did not make much sense to me when I first read it in Book One (The Knife of Never Letting Go). I dismissed it as casual and predictable ravings of a lunatic and his cult. Saying the words was meant to be a strategy through which men’s noise is silenced. In this last book, however, I felt that there was so much more to this mantra – and that it could actually come to mean something different – an unsettling power that has proven to be Mayor Prentiss’ strength and undoing – but I shall leave the details of that for you to discover.

The Visage of War by Salvador Dali – click on the image to be taken to the websource.

War, Vile Strategies, and Victories. Make no mistake about it, this entire book is about taking a stand and fighting for it, betrayal of the highest order, and conquering one’s self. It’s a book that would make one question and reflect on the gripping hold that war has over men. I earmarked several passages that would demonstrate the many ‘sacrifices’ and compromises one needs to make and commit to in order to win a war:

“Mistress’s orders,” Wilf says. “To save the body, ya sometimes have to cut off the leg.” – p. 16 — this passage indicating how ‘the ends justify the means’

This is further elucidated by Mistress Coyle herself when she ‘justifies’ her actions to Viola:

“You think you know me. You call me bad and evil and a tyrant and yes, I’ve made tough decisions, but they were decisions with only one aim, Viola. Getting rid of that man and returning to the Haven we had before. Not slaughter for its own sake. Not the sacrifice of good people for no reason. But, as it turns out, the same goal as you, my girl. Peace.

“You’ve got a pretty warlike way of going about it.”

“I’ve got an adult way of going about it,” she says. “A way that isn’t nice or pretty, but that gets the job done.” – p. 122

The Battle of Teutan by Salvador Dali. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Another relatively long passage is this philosophical discussion between Mayor Prentiss and Todd – there are quite a number of these in the book. What I liked about it though is that the existential and moral banters never seemed pretentious nor contrived in the least – more like an exploration of one’s doubts, a cautious meandering towards unacknowledged truths and unvoiced fears about the extent of man’s depravities. In this particular dialogue, Mayor Prentiss explains that Todd is better off with experiencing this war, however ghastly:

“But you’ll be fine,” the Mayor says. “So will your horse. You’ll both be stronger. You’ll be better for it.”

I look at him. “How can anyone be better after that? How can anyone be more of a man after that?”

He leans down close to me. “Because it was exciting, too, wasn’t it?”

I don’t say nothing to that.

(cuz it was-)

(for a minute there-)

But then I remember the soldier dying, the one reaching for his baby son in his Noise, the one who won’t never see him again-

“You felt the excitement when we chased them up the hill,” the Mayor’s saying. “I saw it. It blazed through your Noise like a fire. Every man in the army felt the same thing, Todd. You’re never more alive than in battle.”

“Never more dead after,” I say.

“Ah, philosophy,” he smiles. “I didn’t know you had it in you.” – p. 73

The Monstrosity that is War. There were a lot of answered questions in this book: a character is resurrected to play a vital part in the narrative (who it is, I won’t say, lips are sealed); Viola’s ship, its emissaries, and its role are played out perfectly; the thin line between being a general and a terrorist supposedly fighting for one’s freedom is likewise explored. More importantly, the description of Spackle’s oneness with its land – the explanation as to why one’s ‘noise’ is broadcasted to one and all (even non-human creatures) is just staggeringly brilliant. What humans thought of as a ‘virus’ – may actually be a blessing if harnessed in its pristine form – and used in the way that it is meant to.

I was also moved by the voice of the Spackle who got away (known as 1017 or The Return) as he recalled how they fought and were virtually defenseless against the ‘monsters of men.’

…. Shooting us, hacking at us, making that high stuttering sound they call laughing. Killing the old and the young, mothers and babies, fathers and sons. If we tried to resist, we were killed. If we did not resist, we were killed. If we tried to run, we were killed. If we did not run, we were killed.

One after the other after the other after the other.

With no way to share our fear. No way to coordinate and try to protect ourselves. No way to be comforted as we died.

And so we died alone. Every one of us.

As I was reading this passage, I was reminded of the poem by Wislawa Syzmborska. When words fail, I always turn to poetry.

There But for the Grace
– Wislawa Szymborska
 
It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened sooner. Later.
Nearer. Farther.
It happened not to you.

You survived because you were the first.
You survived because you were the last.
Because you were alone. Because of people.
Because you turned left. Because you turned right.
Because rain fell. Because a shadow fell.
Because sunny weather prevailed.

Luckily there was a wood.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily there was a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a bend, a millimeter, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the surface.

Thanks to, because, and yet, in spite of.
What would have happened had not a hand, a foot,
by a step, a hairsbreadth
by sheer coincidence.

So, you’re here? Straight from a moment still ajar?
The net had one eyehole, and you got through it?
There’s no end to my wonder, my silence.
Listen
how fast your heart beats in me.

Here is a video clip of Patrick Ness sharing his creative process and how he writes for teenagers. In this clip, Patrick focused on A Monster Calls (which we reviewed here). I hope, though, that this short interview would give you an insight into the man and what goes on in his head. This video clip was taken by Candy Gourlay during the London Book Fair, April 2012.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness. Walker Books, Ltd. London, 2010. Review copy provided by Pansing Books.

Carnegie Medal, 2011; Greenaway Medal, AWB Reading Challenge Update: 70 (35)

6 Comments on There But for the Grace in Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness – Chaos Walking Trilogy Book Three

  1. I was present during this interview! It was fun to hear him. I haven’t read his works yet, but after listening to him I’ve added him to my TBR.

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    • Hi TBM, how awesome that you were actually here during this interview! Nice! His books are my greatest discoveries this year, i hope you get a chance to read them soon.

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  2. Wonderful interview you shared, Myra. I didn’t read your review as I still haven’t read the books, but want to get to them! Thank you-A Monster Calls is wonderfully done, I think.

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  3. Gosh, I feel that I have to prepare myself for this last installment. The Ask and The Answer broke my heart especially the deaths that occurred. I am seriously hoping for a happy ending for Todd and Viola, they are among the few literary characters that I really root for. 🙂

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  4. Hi Tin, yes, you have got to read this one. The ending was not anything that I expected and it also managed to tie up a number of loose ends from the first two books. Patrick Ness always manages to catch the reader off-guard, providing you with the unexpected in a strangely-discordant oddly-beautiful way.

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4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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