Saturday, August 24, 2013

More Than This (Patrick Ness)

Thank you, NetGalley, for this eARC.

Seth drowns at the beginning of More Than This. That's not a spoiler. It's the prologue. He's in the Pacific Ocean, he's fighting against the current, and then he cracks his skull on a rock and he's dead. Then he wakes up in his hometown in England, unsure at first where he is. He remembers dying. So why is he alive? He begins to explore the place his family fled years ago (owing to a horrifying, traumatic incident involving Seth's younger brother, Owen) and finds it totally deserted. It is a wasteland, looking like it was abandoned years ago because of...well, who knows what, exactly? Seth begins to feel very lonely and desperate, the same feeling that led him to (spoiler?) kill himself by walking into the ocean at the beginning of the book.

This is part one of the book, and it was incredible. The events leading up to Seth's suicide are heartbreaking and devastating. Each time he falls asleep in this new world, he relives some of his most important past memories, and these are the scenes that I loved. I had moments where all I wanted to was read the book and simultaneously never read it again because of how lonely it made me feel. That's a strange feeling to crave, but I'm wonderstruck by the fact that there are things out there that can make me believe we're all so totally isolated from one another, that can overwhelm me so strongly with despair (see also The Social Network and The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Even the scenes where Seth is walking around his ghost-hometown manage to evoke those same feelings, because here he is so literally alone (versus his feeling alone before he kills himself). It's terrible. It's delicious.

I could rave about part one of More Than This for the rest of the review and slap on a five-star rating and tell everyone I know to read it. But this part is only the first third of the book--there is still the other 67% of the book, the other three parts of the book. And that's where all my problems lie. It's going to be difficult to talk about the rest of the book because it's all spoilery--there's no indication about what happens for the rest of the book in the blurb that comes on the book or in information about it. So I'll try my best.

Parts two through four take everything we know about the book, crumple it up and throw it at the wall. There's a bizarre science-fiction twist that comes from nowhere. Again, no spoilers, but let's just say "virtual reality" is a key phrase. It's not that this conceit is bad--it's actually very interesting, and one of the better takes on virtual reality I've seen. But it feels so disconnected, so totally different from the beautiful beginning that it's almost an entirely different novel that happens to feature the same Seth.

I can't even say I don't like the second big chunk of Ness' newest novel, because there are still those melancholy, melodic memories that enraptured me interspersed with the sci-fi/mystery elements. And certainly there are some interesting meditations about the nature of reality and friendship and love that rarely veer into saccharine territory, but I spent the whole book hoping that this was going to be some weird middle section that resolved itself before the end so I could get back to the substance of part one.

The ending is minorly aggravating. There are lots of clues dropped that make Seth (and by extension, the reader) question which reality is real--are the things happening in abandoned-world occurring conveniently because it doesn't exist, or is it all coincidence? More Than This doesn't know how to answer it, either: the book ends with Seth about to attempt something that could either kill him or save him, and he decides "well, in the end none of it matters". It's a cop-out answer masquerading as YA philosophy-lite and I walked away feeling a little disappointed.

Some of the sad memories really flare up toward the end, and I was on the verge of crying more than once, but it kept jumping back to the empty-world scenario which was a totally different tone of writing. I wanted to cry, I wanted to take part in Seth's lonely heartbreak, but I was ultimately prevented from doing so.

But I still recommend the book. I would say it's worth it for the first 150 pages alone, and that doesn't mean that there won't be people who love the rest of the book as much as they loved the beginning (or even more). My personal interests were invested in Seth's past. I suspect some people will care more about his present and future. Patrick Ness' More Than This is the sort of book that will wrap itself up in your internal organs and stay put. And that's a good thing.

My rating: 4/5
More Than This on Goodreads
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