I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded sematary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise. My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there. Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me. Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma. Ben may not be lying, hebelieves it’s true, but who knows?Todd Hewitt is turning thirteen in a month, the age when a boy becomes a man. He’s the last boy in Prentisstown. Shortly after he was born, there was a war with Spackle, and at the end they released a virus that killed all the women. The virus is also responsible for the Noise: every one of the man in Prentisstown can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a continuous stream. There is no silence. There are no secrets. Or so they say.
One day, Todd and his dog Manchee (the virus also made animals be able to talk) are at the swamp just outside town when they come across a spot of complete silence. No Noise. Only, silence is not supposed to exist. And if that isn’t true, what else should Todd be doubting?
I’m going to do something I don’t usually do, which is divide this post into two sections, one spoilers-free and the other spoilerific. It’s easy to tell from the start that this is going to be one of those books in which the protagonist’s—and the readers’—assumptions about the world of the story are constantly challenged. Some things are revealed early on, but really, the least you know, the more fun it is. And I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun.
So, spoiler-free reasons why you should read The Knife of Never Letting Go:
- It deservedly won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which is given to “science fiction or fantasy that expand or explore one's understanding of gender”—and believe me, it does just that.
- There are awesome talking animals (especially Manchee).
- Todd’s voice is just perfect. And so is the way Patrick Ness uses language in bold ways to convey all sorts of things. And so is the use of different font sizes and types to represent the Noise.
- There are characters you will care about deeply. You will cry and be scared and feel hope with them and for them.
- The world-building is absolutely fantastic. Also, it's a dystopian world. I love those.
- This is a difficult and meaningful story, but it’s also extremely gripping. You’ll find it very hard to put down.
SPOILERS AHEAD. BEWARE!
What I was saying about how I loved Ness’ use of language shows, for example, in the way pronouns and names are used. I loved the transition from “it” to “she” to “the girl” to “Viola” as Todd gets to know her, as she goes from being an unfamiliar creature whom he imagines to be completely different from himself to being an actual, real person to him.
I loved the concept of the Noise. I loved how it’s use to convey so many different things. It can be social pressure, it can be other people’s expectations, it can be the desire to control others, it can be rage, it can be intimacy, it can be distance. Take this passage, for example, about the difference between the noise in the swamp and the noise in Prentisstown:
The loud is a different kind of loud, because swamp loud is just curiosity, creachers figuring out who you are and if yer a threat. Whereas the town knows all about you already and wants to know more and wants to beat you with what it knows till how can you have any yerself left at all?I loved how, as Todd and Viola travel through towns other than Prentisstown, Todd begins to realise that Noise doesn’t have to be the abrasive, intrusive thing he grew up with. There can be degrees of privacy still, and there can be balance.
I also love the fact that Noise affects men but not women, mostly because I think Patrick Ness uses a visible gender difference to say something about the belief in essential gender differences and some of its potential consequences. When we finally find out what happened in Prentisstown, I wasn’t exactly surprised, but it still broke my heart. This is a little random, but a few days after I finished the book I was reading a play, Brendan Kennelly’s retelling of Euripedes’ Medea, and I came across these lines:
…The most difficult…which I think apply to what happened in Prentisstown perfectly. It’s the silence, but of course it’s not the silence on its own. It’s the fact that it’s women’s silence, women who are perceived as different, as others. And therefore without Noise their thoughts can’t possibly be guessed, which makes them seem dangerous, and so they are feared, and so it's decided that they must be eliminated. And this is why my favourite scene in the book is when Todd realizes that, Noise or no Noise, boy or girl, he knows Viola. They can communicate.
obstacle of all is a woman’s silence –
it makes a man feel that his words are less
than the squeaking of mice in the sleeping dark.
I can read it.It’s a lovely scene, and it’s a brilliant book. And there’s so much more that struck me about it. Pretinsstown’s notion of adulthood and how Todd resists it, his gut feelings about violence, the scene with the Spackle (I cried), the many reasons why Aaron was one of the creepiest characters I have ever encountered, how lovely Ben and Cillian were (but Renay perfectly said everything I wanted to say about them). I could go on and on. But this post is over a thousand words long already, so I’d better stop now.
I can read her.
Cuz she’s thinking about how her own parents also came here with hope like my ma. She’s wondering if the hope at the end of our hope is just as false as the one that was at the end of my ma’s. And she;s taking the words of my ma and putting them into the mouths of her own ma and pa and hearing them say that they love her and they miss her and they wish her the world. And she’s taking the song of my pa and she’s weaving it into everything else till it becomes a sad thing all her own.
And it hurts her, but it’s an okay hurt, but it hurts still, but it’s good, but it hurts.
I know all this.
I know it’s true.
Cuz I can read her.
I can read her Noise even tho she ain’t got none.
I know who she is.
I know Viola Eade.
Click here to read the first chapter of the book online.
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