It ain't for butter spreading.

It ain’t for butter spreading.

“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”

The excitement in her voice was palpable as she almost threw the book at me saying, “You will love it! Honestly, you’ll be asking me to lend you the sequels without a doubt!”

“But what’s it about?” I asked.

“Just read it,” she said.

I am, naturally, talking about one of my friends – in this instance, the psychologist – who has given me a copy of The Knife of Never Letting Go. I don’t know it, have never heard of it, but the opening line is known to me. I don’t know why, or from what situation, but I have heard that line before. I’m always wary when people are so keen on a book, if only because I don’t want to hurt their feelings when I’m unimpressed by it. But, in this case, she was absolutely right.

This is the story of Todd Hewitt, who is the last boy in Prentisstown. All boys become men on their thirteenth birthdays, and Todd is still a month away from his. None of the men want to talk to him anymore, so he is left with his dog Manchee, a dog he never wanted, and his two sort-of-fathers, Ben and Cillian. Prentisstown, however, is not your average town. Firstly, there are no women. Secondly, everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts. They call it the Noise, and it means there is no privacy or secrets anywhere, as anything you think can immediately be read by everyone else. And it’s not just the humans – you can hear the thoughts of the animals too.

But then, quite without warning or preparation, Todd stumbles upon a pocket of complete silence – something that cannot and should not exist, and yet does. When he returns to the farm and Ben reads in his Noise what he has found, everything begins to change, and Todd and Manchee are forced out on the run when the Mayor comes knocking and demanding Todd be handed over to him.

I wish I could tell you more of the story here and, while I can, I think it would be unfair to do so. There are so many surprises along the way and it wouldn’t be right of me to remove the joy of experiencing them from you first hand. As such, this review is going to be rather vague.

First things first, quite simply, this novel is incredible. It clocks in at almost five hundred pages, but it’s so gripping and fast-paced that you barely notice. Todd is a young narrator who doesn’t make me want to commit infanticide. He’s naive for his age, but it is merely a product of his very sheltered upbringing. The primary villain, Aaron, is a masterful creation of what happens to men when they become monsters, driven by madness and their own agenda.

The book doesn’t shy away from graphic violence and showing the effects of it. The bigger themes are those of doing what is right and what is easy, about how information overload can do dangerous things to you (it was this theme that made Ness choose to write the book for teenagers), and also how the choices we make impact the sort of man or woman we grow up to be. There are some dreadfully sad moments (this is not a funny book) and some passages are a little dry, but on the whole the action and exposition are so neatly entwined that I can’t complain about it. I’m particularly fond of the representation of the Noise which, when in Prentisstown, is displayed as dozens upon dozens of overlapping lines of speech in various handwriting, showing the reader how overwhelming the situation must be.

The ending … well, it totally rests on a cliffhanger that sets you up for the next book. I will be continuing this series in 2014, so watch this space!

15/01/2014 EDIT: My review of the second book in the series is available here.

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