Jun 15, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

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.
And I really can’t say much more without spoilers. I hope you do read it, but a warning: prepare to suffer if you don’t have the second book in the trilogy at hand. It has one of those endings.


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
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.
…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.
I can read it.
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.
She 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.
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.


Click here to read the first chapter of the book online.

Other Opinions:

The Zen Leaf
Becky’s Book Reviews
Presenting Lenore
YA Fabulous
The Well-Read Child
Fantasty Book Critic
Wands and Words
YA Reads
The Page Flipper
Lisa the Nerd
Bitten by Books
Confessions of a Bibliovore
books i done read
Jenny's Books
Regular Ruminations
Nothing of Importance
Bart's Bookshelf
Flight Into Fantasy
where troubles melt like lemon drops

(Did I miss yours?)


  1. I love the way you did this post! The book sounds good even if the cover is rather creepy.

  2. The one thing I forgot to mention in my review was that violence thing you mention, and how different violence is portrayed than in many media forms. That was good. Though the book was more graphic than I expected, at least it didn't glorify violence.

    Do you have access to the second book in the series? I know it came out in Britain back around the time I read Knife, but it doesn't come out here until September or so.

  3. What a compelling title, let alone review. At first, the image brought to mind The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I can see that clearly this book is very different. You keep me aware of all the good fantasy out there, Nymeth!

  4. Imagine being able to hear everyone else's thoughts. It would be awful! I like the way you split it from non spoilers to spoilers, but I couldn't resist reading the spoilers. I do like the sound of this book.

  5. this sounds very cool Nymeth, how in the world do you find these interesting books? And in Portugal!! ;-)

  6. How is it that all those people have already reviewed this book and this is the first I've ever heard of it?!! Not only do I seem to wallow in this cave of mine, but I'm also mighty behind in my blog reading apparently. I'm so glad you reviewed it, because this is one I MUST read! And then I can come back and read your spoilers...I hate the fact that you've written something that I can't read. :)

  7. I had to race to the bottom so I wouldn't see anything. This sounds really good. I don't think I could take it if I have to hear everyone's thoughts 2/7. That's probably literally one of my worse nightmares.

  8. Adding to the wish list! And loved the spoiler-free bullet points; The first one sold me (but I bet you could guess that by now!).

  9. Awesome title. Think I'm going to have to give this one a go.

  10. sounds good, and great review!
    I didnt read the spoilers though. if I come across this one, i'll grab a copy.

  11. After reading the "spoiler free" section, I decided to skip the spoilers because I'm adding this book to the list!

  12. Okay, it's becoming more and more apparent that I need to grab a copy of this one. Going to have to try and find an original hard-back copy though as if I do like it as much as I think I might I'll want the collection to match, and they have these fantastic clear dust-jackets on them.

  13. I didn't read the spoilery section, but you've given some durned good reasons for folks to pick this up. Onto the List it goes.

  14. I was so tempted to read the spoilers. But I resisted. And miracle! My library has it! So I'll be reading it soon...thanks for the review.

  15. Oh my god I don't know how long I'll be able to resist this one. I have my own copy in the shop, signed!, not bought yet, waiting to be read. But I must be strong,it will have to wait!

  16. Bermudaonion: And it gets creepier inside :P But in a good way!

    Amanda: I agree - it didn't glorify it at all. I don't normally buy hardcovers, but I ordered book 2 from TheBookDepository as soon as I finished this one. I couldn't resist!

    Bellezza: I can see why the cover reminded you of it, but yes, very different kind of book. Just as good, though!

    Scrap Girl: Yes, it would be very difficult to cope with that. I didn't give everything away in the spoilers section, so you're still in for some surprises :P

    Joanna: Well, we do have internet connections, and that's all it takes ;)

    Debi: You weren't paying enough attention, that's how :P But seriously now, yes, you must read it! Annie too, actually. I think she'd really enjoy it.

    Nicole: It does drive a lot of people crazy in the story, so you're not alone!

    Kirsten: I could, yes!

    Loren Eaton, I hope you enjoy it!

    Naida: Do :D

    Jenclair: Glad to hear it!

    Bart: I wish I had the hardcover! Ah well, maybe I'll mooch it some day :P

    Memory: I think you'd probably really enjoy this one.

    Softdrink: Hooray! Can't wait to hear what you think :D

    Valentina: A signed copy! That's awesome. And you'll see, it'll be worth the wait.

  17. I just picked up this book because I read all the raving recommendations. Read the beginning and found it creepy, scary and depressing. So I read the end, just to make sure it ended OK. YIKES. It's a creepy depressing cliff-hanger ending. I totally HATE cliff-hanger endings.

    But thank you for the spoilers.I really was wondering why there were no women. I don't mind spoilers because I consider books a journey and that the plot does not make the book.

  18. Great review, Nymeth! And I love the way you write this review. I can't help myself; I've to read them all, with/out spoilers. ;P

    This sounds like one powerful read! Will definitely have to check it out.

  19. Thanks for doing the spoiler free part...loved your reasons and it has pushed this book a little farther up my list. Can't wait to read it but I will make sure I have the 2nd book right next to me before I do!!!

  20. I like what you say in your spoiler section - those were the things going through my head as I read it as well. And book 2 is sitting on my desk right in front of me taunting me ;)

  21. I love this post, how you separated it into two sections! I read the whole thing and now I've got this book on hold at the library for me :D

    The descriptions of The Noise kinda reminded me of how telepathy is used in The Crysalids.

  22. Um, first--I love the word "spoilerific." It really made me smile. :D See?

    See, the thing is--I don't particularly care for talking animals. Oh I know, stop giving me that look. We went and saw Up this weekend and I loved it...until... Usually in cartoons I'm OK with it, but even Narnia. Ok, I'll stop before I dig myself a gigantic hole. I'll say the dystopian elements will probably outweigh the talking animals and I'm putting it on my list. Plus--with a rave like that, how I could I not?

  23. Oh my gosh! I reviewed this book and got THREE people to read it, you reviewed it and got like, 5,000 readers to immediately add it to their reading list.* WHERE CAN I GET SOME OF YOUR POWER. Seriously.

    Also, aww! Thanks for linking to my thoughts about Ben and Cillian. I am still wowed by that element and so in love with this book. It might be my favorite of the entire year so far. I'm so glad you read it! <3

    * Possible exaggeration.

  24. This book sounds fabulously unusual, and like something that would keep me up reading way past bedtime. As usual, I will be putting this on my wish list, and hoping that I can get to it very soon!

  25. You just added another book to my TBR! Now cut that out! LOL!

  26. A dystopian novel with talking animals? I'm in! (that TBR list is never gonna get shorter, is it?)

  27. What a great passage you quoted from the book. How can I not put that on my radar? I skimmed through your post to avoid spoilers but from what I read it sounds great - I really like the talking animals part!

  28. I want to read this one so bad!

  29. Weekly: It's definitely a cliff-hanger and not at all positive ending, but you know, even though a lot of bad things happen I wouldn't say the book is a completely bleak one. There's a lot of hope, a lot of really tender moments - hope is actually one of the main themes of the story. If you hate cliff-hangers, it might be wise to wait for the whole series to be out, though :P

    Melody: I didn't reveal everything, so you'll still have a few surprises if you pick it up :P

    Staci: I've read the second one now, and it might be wiser to have all 3 at hand :P I now have to suffer for at least a whole year until the third one comes out >:(

    Lenore: Read it! You know you want to :P

    Joanne: yay! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :D

    Trish: lol, I'm glad you liked it :P The talking animals in this series are a bit different from most talking animals in that they're STILL very much regular animals. I mean, the sheep only say "sheeeeeep" like "baaaaah", they don't philosophize or discuss literature :P

    Renay: I think it was the whole "I can't tell you more!" thing :P It got people curious. Anyway, it's definitely one of my favourites of the year as well!

    Zibilee: It's definitely a book that'll keep you up! Even though it's a chunkster I read the whole thing in two days.

    Teddy Rose: lol, sorry :P

    Jessica: I'm glad we agree!

    infiniteshelf: lol! I'm afraid it's not, no :P

    Alice: Get it, get it :D

    Iliana and Suey, I hope you both enjoy it as much as I did!

  30. This was my absolute favourite book of all the books I read last year. I kind of want to read it again before I read the sequel. Maybe I will.

  31. Just nipping back to say I absolutely loved this book, thanks to you and your avatar for making me read it!

    And my favourite scene is exactly the same as yours, and just another sign that he is already more of a 'man' than the majority of his fellow former townmates.

  32. I just finished this one today. Really really enjoyed it. Even the heart-wrenching bits, even if enjoy is the wrong word :)

    Loved that "knowing" scene too. So well written. Will hopefully be starting the second one tmro

  33. Ana, I'm way late to the game reading this one, but Heather finally forced me, so here I am reading your review and NOT GETTING ENOUGH of reading about this book that I loved so much and finished less than 24 hours ago.

    You've summed up beautifully the subtleties I love so much in Ness's writing. His ability to make such internal struggles visible -- the women's silence vs the men's noise. Todd's realization that he knows Viola without being able to read the noise in her head. Such good stuff. Hats off to Ness over and over again.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.