by Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this...
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This is the first book by Patrick Ness that I've read. Judging by some of the other one-star reviews on Goodreads written by fans of his other books (particularly the Chaos Walking trilogy), More Than This may not be a very good representation of his work. Unfortunately, it was my first exposure to the author, and it didn't make a very good first impression. In fact, it made an awful one.
The synopsis of this book makes it sound like it might be some sort of philosophically deep psychological thriller. What this book actually is, however, is an implausible, unoriginal sci-fi dystopian that rambles through almost five hundred pages just to come to the conclusion that life is uncertain and nobody has all the answers. There's no resolution to the ridiculous plot. We don't even know what's real and what isn't.
The characterization was weak. Beyond the racial stereotypes of the angry black woman and the Polish kid whose English (supposedly gleaned from English-language movies) sounds more like something he picked up from other non-English speakers ("She would very much like to be hearing you talk this way. Yes, she would be very much liking this indeed."), we have Seth, who might as well have been any other teenage boy. He's gay, he likes to run, and he blames himself for a tragedy in his past. Beyond this, his character isn't really developed.
The pace and writing, though, were what had me making copious angry notes. I'd heard that Patrick Ness was a really good writer. Well, I'm sorry, but I don't think that someone who doesn't know the difference between further and farther, between who and whom, and between any more and anymore; who has his characters shrug, smile, nod, and frown their speech; and who continually says things like "nothing still happens" is a very good writer. In fact, with the exception of that last example (which may or may not be some weird regional thing), those are pretty basic concepts that a writer -- and an editor -- should know. And this book was excruciatingly slow. I almost gave up at the point where it took Seth a couple of pages just to decide whether or not to pass through a doorway. So much of the story seemed dragged out unnecessarily. There would be parts where one of the characters would imply that they had an answer to something they'd been wondering, but then it was almost as if they said, "I know, but I'm not going to tell you!" This happened more than once, and it was extremely frustrating. Just get on with it.
The narrative is mostly from Seth's point of view (third person, present tense), and it's often in a stream-of-consciousness style. I say "often", because it wasn't really consistent. Some parts read like a middle-grade action novel while other parts read (or wanted to be) like deadly serious literary fiction; the last chapter was especially treacly. There were flashbacks throughout the story, which were related in the past tense. I thought, perhaps, there was a clue within them that would lead to some earth-shattering realization and make everything in the rest of the book make sense. But they were even weaker and more boring than the main narrative, and perhaps ultimately pointless (depending on your interpretation of the ending).
I also didn't think this book was very original. Large parts of the plot seemed like a direct ripoff from sci-fi movies like The Matrix. But, unlike that story, More Than This didn't offer any plausible explanations (or a coherent timeline) for why things were the way they were. The only way the plot even makes sense is if More Than This takes place in a parallel universe, where they somehow went from the technological level of using CRT monitors and not having cell phones to suddenly being able to breed human beings in sophisticated computerized coffins while their consciousnesses are otherwise occupied in an illusory online world. That's quite a technological leap.
I kept waiting for there to be something more to More Than This, but, ironically, there wasn't. In the end, I found it trite, preachy, unsophisticated, and unsatisfying. Maybe the author's other books are better than this one, and maybe they're not. But I'm afraid he's used up my goodwill for now. I'm off to read something better, something more. That shouldn't be too hard.
Overall: 1.43 out of 5