by Patrick Ness
The nightmare feeling was rising in him, turning everything around him to darkness, making everything seem heavy and impossible, like he’d been asked to lift a mountain with his bare hands and no one would let him leave until he did.
The imagery in this line is so vivid, but it isn't the visual imagery that hits you first. It is the feeling, that "nightmare feeling" that Conor is experiencing. Who hasn't felt that at some point in their lives? Living with anxiety means that I have felt it, for sensible or absurd reasons, many, many times; and it is not the "lifting of the mountain with bare hands" that is the nightmare. The nightmare is no one letting you leave until you do it. The nightmare is not having an option. Not having a choice. The helplessness and despair comes through so completely, and so also does a childlike quality of being forced to do something you really, really don't want to do, but you have to. You have to.
I don't want to do this, you say. I don't want this. Get me out. Get me out.
He looked at the floor, the centre of which was covered in a very expensive, very old-looking oval rug. He reached down and lifted up an edge of it, looking at the polished boards beneath. There was a knot in one of them. He ran his fingers over it, but the board was so old and smooth, you couldn’t tell the difference between the knot and the rest of it.
“Are you in there?” Conor whispered.
I love this line. This simple question, conveys so much of what is going on in Conor's heart and mind. The monster is becoming a strange sort of a companion, now. Something to wait for, and look forward to.
As destruction goes, the monster said behind him, this is all remarkably pitiful.
It is not your fault, the monster said, its voice floating in the air around him like a breeze. “It is.” You were merely wishing for the end of pain, the monster said. Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all.
Our pain does isolate us, all of us; isolated together. We wish for an end to it, even if sometimes that means that a "wrong" thought enters our mind. When we think, "If only this would end...", "If only I had never...", and these thoughts can horrify us as we see what our minds are capable of. They can induce an immense amount of guilt, so that we are essentially drowning in our pain and our guilt now, suffocating because not only is there no way out, but we are also condemning ourselves for wanting a way out at all.
How gentle the monster is, though. How careful, with Conor's emotions.
It was not wrong, the monster said. It was only a thought, one of a million. It was not an action.
One of a million. This is something that will stay with me, from this book. It is only a thought, one of a million. I vilify myself for my thoughts endlessly, thoughts that remain thoughts, nothing translates into action. And yet, we have this idea that being a good person means thinking good things, all the time, every time. Who can do that? Is that not an unimaginably difficult thing to ask of someone, to ask of yourself? Especially when you have any sort of emotional or mental instability, you can think the worst things. Should I really beat myself up for thinking, for my mind doing what it is meant to do, even though I am discerning enough to know what is right and what is wrong, and I take responsibility for my actions? I can connect mindfulness to this line. It makes me think of meditation, of understanding that we can stay aside while our thoughts run astray, we don't need to go after each one and then react to each one.
He felt the monster place its hand on his shoulders. Somehow they were small enough to feel like they were holding him up.
By this time, I could barely read through my tears. Once again, the monster's gentleness and tenderness, so at odds with how it is perceived, comes through so beautifully.
I honestly loved this book; and not just because I was actively hunting for a tearjerker and got what I wanted. There’s a beautiful juxtaposition in the monster – something strong and scary, and yet tender and nurturing. This one is going in my favourites pile.
Started – July 2020.
Finished – July 2020.