Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee – whose thoughts Todd can hear, too, whether he wants to or not – stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden – a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.
But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?
Alright, I’ll admit it, I’m not ashamed I joined the bandwagon, but if I had waited a little longer it wouldn’t have been a crime. The book is definitely unique in subject matter, if a little frantic to use it, and offers up a host of moral and hypothetical questions for its readers to consider, if a little too forcefully. The knife of the rather catchy title represents a few things, and is mentioned nearly every-page from its arrival in the story, making it impossible to forget and annoying. It’s a metaphor for the moral aspects of becoming a man, and that’s not even a spoiler, because Ness throws that in your direction at every available opportunity. Unfortunately, the power of these moral based themes and choices dwindles with the over-exposure.
The story is interesting, and in places can hold a lot of suspense; it follows the journey of protagonist Todd as he endeavours to learn the truth behind a world where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts, and all the women are dead. It’s one of those ‘or are they?’ plots. For the most part, the sheer need to understand what Todd wants to understand got me to the end; there are a lot of potential solutions to the issues raised, and near miss moments of instant discovery. However, most of the book is running through the wilderness. That’s not a metaphor. All the protagonists seem to be doing is running, and then hiding, and then running again leading the reader on with the promise that it’ll be worth it. There’s too much excess walking, and a good chunk of pages could have been cut without leaving any plot holes. There are few dips in the story which are just plain out of the blue. Characters defy the laws of physics appearing from seemingly nowhere without rational cause, which can clinch the suspense in the moment, but later had be pondering if I’d missed some vital piece of information.
Characterisation for Todd was great, but lacked real depth. Yes he’s stubborn and he’s proud and he’s noble despite his qualms, but never does Ness really take the time to show us why. Viola is like a stick – a stereotypical female sidekick stick, but a stick none the less. She hasn’t really got a personality beyond being a vessel for Todd’s emotion, and an important plot point. The villains are confusing in their motives; I swear that Aaron (the energiser bunny as another reviewer rightly called him), is just there to wedge a religious dimension into the story. His role is clear, but his grievances aren’t. And I had a hard time believing the reasons the army was amassed. Perhaps this is fleshed out later in the series, and I’m more than willing to give that a chance. Todd does face some genuinely difficult struggles; I felt for him and his plight.
The writing style is perfect for the story; I loved how the first-person written narrative engaged with the main character’s personal circumstances and thought processes. The spelling errors and grammatical inaccuracies helped to distinguish Todd’s mind, pulling him closer to the reader with hardly any effort at all. Occasionally I had to stop and sound out a word, but this was never too cumbersome to do, and if you read this novel you’ll understand why it’s so powerful to the context of the story. Very unique and well portrayed. One thing that did irritate me:
The moments when the style did this-
And it was constant-
And there was no real reason –
And I know the author was trying to build suspense-
And it worked in small bursts –
But he did it for pages at a time-
And the suspense was lost with the effort of having to read line by line-
And I found myself skimming because it was very annoying-
And it halted the action-
And I think I’ve made my point.
An original twist on the sci-fi genre which I hope is bolstered and further fleshed out by its successors. There’s so much potential in what Ness has crafted, and the story leaves of where so many questions begin. Definitely a worthwhile read.