The Knife of Never Letting Go
by Patrick Ness
“Noise ain't Truth, Noise is what men want to be true, and there's a difference twixt those two things so big that it could ruddy well kill you if you don't watch out.”
Todd lives in a strange town. Firstly, they are colonists on a lonely planet: religious colonists like the Pilgrims. Second, there are only men. All the women died when a terrible virus swept through the town, killing all the women and allowing all the men to hear each other's thoughts. It follows the men around like a cloud and they call it The Noise. There are no secrets in Prentisstown. Also, all the animals can talk, which is advantageous in some cases, but when you have an annoying dog who always has to poo, it appears more as an irritating situation.
One day, when Todd and Manchee (his dog) travel to the swamp to gather fruit for his adopted fathers, Todd is startled by a patch of quiet moving through ancient huts. When he returns home, his fathers force him to flee as the sheriff and his posse try to break down the door. Armed only with a book from his dead mother that he cannot read, a knife, his dog and baffled confusion and anger at his situation, Todd stumbles into the wilderness and meets the last thing he expected: a girl. He and Viola must hazard a dangerous preacher, hunger, wild animals, illness, and the string of communities who have all learned to deal with the Noise in different and often disturbing ways, to get to a legendary city called Haven. Along the way, Todd must begin to learn the awful secret of Prentisstown and resist the urge to complete it's corruption.
This book is absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately the most fantastic parts about it would reveal some pretty significant spoilers about the plot. I will do my best.
First of all, Manchee is the best dog. Ness did not give him more intellect than we would expect a dog to have, but the smooth flow of communication between man and dog was beautiful and made me wish we could communicate with our pets like that. We might not be able to discuss Aristotle with them, but the simplicity and clarity and harmony would be wonderful.
The world-building is fantastic. Ness represents the Noise with pages of scrawled writing overlapping and weaving in and out to make it crowded and chaotic and difficult to read. Prentisstown has become so sad and isolated that corruption is rampant. What started off as a quaint town of settlers has morphed into a booze-soaked, depressed, inbred (figuratively) and lost wasteland. The highlight of the book is is how the other towns Todd and Viola encounter have each dealt with the problem in their own way, a cultural Darwinian evolution, sometimes to great success, and other times to rather disturbing ends.
Todd and Viola are reluctant allies, with him spouting Noise while she has a bubble of silence around her. As their partnership grows, they are tested more and more as the Prentisstown men give chase, until Todd makes a horrible decision he can never take back. He must carry the weight of what he has done and find out the mysteries of the world he thought he knew before it is too late.
It is a wonderful exploration of what it is to know someone and what it means to be a man. And the cliffhanger ending blew my mind. I have never read a book with that much of a cliffhanger. It felt like the end to a season on a TV series rather than a book. I can't wait for the next one!
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