The Knife of Never Letting Go Is Something Special
With the movie Chaos Walking out—which I haven’t seen—I figured it would be a good idea to review the book it was based on: The Knife of Never Letting Go. Which, before we go any further, I agree is not a good movie title and I see why they changed it.
But the book itself, regardless of what happened with that movie (22% Rotten Tomatoes score at time of writing), is a stunning piece of written media for one simple fact: the level of immersion done with the narrative in both form and page structure.
What I mean is this: like House of Leaves, this book messes with how the pages are laid out, it messes with spelling, and it has visual elements. It’s almost multimedia. Pages will have massive black text, odd spacing to paragraphs, and entire pages practically consist of just one sentence a line.
But I mentioned that even the spelling is weird, and I mean it. For those that don’t know, the gimmick of The Knife of Never Letting Go is that males’ thoughts are constantly broadcasted out from them at fairly high volume. This is called “Noise” and it is not just wayward thoughts, but images, and concepts, and emotions all flowing out in a cloud. And this informs the narrative down to its actual spelling of words. Our main character is uneducated in most things and cannot read, so longer, harder to spell words are written phonetically. Most novels attempt to get into the head of a character, but when the heads of all characters being present are part of the plot, you need a great degree of writing chops to ground us to one person.
It Takes Strong Writing To Make This Idea Work
Thankfully, Patrick Ness has that skill. I’ve never once in my reading life felt so dialed into the thoughts and feelings of a character. I didn’t even like the main character initially, but the empathy requisite in such a story happens fast, and it happens expertly.
But you’ll notice I’ve not said much about the actual plot. And that was intentional. There’s not much to say, really. It’s quite simple in book one. But what is here, is two types of plots vying for some degree of stability.
The first is very common: the chase plot. I’ve seen it in things like Maximum Ride, and The Darkest Minds. The idea is simply that one or more characters are designated special in some way, and they are pursued by an overwhelming and evil force for the rest of the story. Action scenes and tense drama can happen with these plots just by the nature of their structure; if the characters stay in one place too long, they will be chased again.
The other is the much more interesting plot archetype and really gets going in the sequel The Ask and The Answer. I call it “the reveal plot.”
I’m Looking Forward To Reading The Final Book
This is different from a simple mystery because the missing info is often completely unknown to the characters until it comes up at specific moments. Often, they are systemic mysteries; big lies told to most people. The reader might catch some incongruity early on, but not much focus is paid to it by the narration, and the story is engaging anyway—while being allowed to deepen with each revelation.
And this lends a sense of unfolding that Ask and Answer has, and The Knife of Never Letting Go gets touches of it as it goes. It turns what is, frankly, a book about a boy and a girl and a dog walking and running a lot, then getting injured, being cared for, and then going back to the run, into a series of increasingly complex case studies on the nature of fear, of corruption, and healthy manhood versus sadism.
If the movie disappointed you, if you just need a breezy read with a lot of action, or you want to experience a very artfully expressive bit of literature, then give The Knife of Never Letting Go a try. Even if you’ve not been a fan of science fiction before, I think it’s worth your time.
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