A Monster Calls

Recommendation: On one hand, did we really need another book about cancer. On the other hand, this isn’t really a book about cancer

Read with: An entire box of tissues, ideally

Where to read: Not on the train

In brief: I cried a humiliating amount reading this. To be fair, I was very tired. To be doubly fair, this is beautifully, heartbreakingly written and it manages to tell more of a story in 100-something pages than some do in three times the length.

I don’t know who is to blame for this but the “cancer weepy” has become a genre in its own right. It’s in TV and movies and half a ruddy shelf in most bookshops. Trite and cloying, they follow the fairly predictable pattern laid down by Love Story in 1970 and honed by Nicholas Sparks (I assume). A Monster Calls is not part of that genre.

While it is decidedly a children’s book, it would not at all be inappropriate for an adult reader looking for a quick, albeit deeply bleak, read. I say bleak because it is (there is no uplifting ending or miracle cure) but it is precisely that bleakness which makes it so powerful. There is also a wild, if not downright savage, edge to the text, coming mainly through the rather unconventional choice of monster(s). The titular monster is the traditional pagan Green Man, in the form of a rather Entish yew tree, with a penchant for storytelling and smashing things.  

Ultimately, however, the point of A Monster Calls has nothing really to do with monsters and barely anything to do with cancer – it’s a beautiful, profoundly humane exploration of grieving, loss, truth and healing. And an economic boon for tissue box manufacturers.

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