My Name is Monster by Katie Hale Book Review

Monday, 12 April 2021

 


Title: My Name is Monster
Author: Katie Hale
Pages: 311
Publication date: 6th June 2019
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Genre: fiction, dystopian

About the book
After the Sickness has killed off her parents, and the bombs have fallen on the last safe cities, Monster emerges from the arctic vault which has kept her alive. When she washes up on the coast of Scotland, everyone she knows is dead, and she believes she is alone in an empty world.

Monster begins the long walk south, scavenging and learning the contours of this familiar land made new. Slowly, piece by piece, she begins to rebuild a life. Until, one day, she finds a girl: feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. Changing her own name to Mother, Monster names the child after herself. As young Monster learns from Mother, she also discovers her own desires, realising that she wants very different things to the woman who made, but did not create, her.

Review
This is one of those books I've had sitting on my bookshelf for what feels like forever and I decided I fancied something different to my typical read and so finally I picked this up and was excited for a story outside of my comfort zone.

The premise might sound really confusing, and I guess it is if you haven't read it. Essentially, we are first introduced to Monster, which is the nickname that was given to her by her father and it kinda just stuck. Monster emerges from the arctic vault and ends up in Scotland after bombs have fallen and the Sickness has killed off all of humanity, or so Monster thinks. Whilst searching the City one day, she comes across a small child and decides to take her under her wing and teach her all she know. Monster then renames herself to Mother (meaning 'creator') and she gives the child the name Monster (meaning 'survivor'). So not to make this review too confusing, I'll simply be calling them Monster and Monster Jnr.

I enjoyed the first 25% of this book, and then I think it's fair to say that it was a struggle from there on out to even want to pick it up. I'm not a DNF-er by nature and I did want to see how the story played out for Monster and Monster Jnr, but I found myself enjoying the book less and less the more I read it. The narrative started to feel very repetitive, which you can argue that this reflects the reality of the situation they find themselves in - chop wood, feed the chickens, keep the fire going, go to the City and look for food, plant vegetables etc - the need to do the same things everyday just to survive. However, there's only so many chapters and passages documenting this that you want to read.

The back-story was extremely vague too, which I didn’t love. The cause of the apocalypse is only referenced to the Sickness and the war, but the full story of what happened is never told. In some cases, this can highlight that the point of the story is that we are focusing on now not then, but in this case it felt more like the author just hadn’t really thought that much about that part of the story. It was all very vague and there wasn't enough scraps of information to connect the dots together.

I did enjoy reading Monster's opening chapters. They were short and a bit emotionless but I think that reflected Monster perfectly as a person. She is deliberately shut off from her own emotions and she firmly believes that the less you rely on other people, the better off you are. She is in survival mode, and doesn't let her own thoughts and feelings get to her too much and this is definitely reflected in the her chapters. Having said that, although I liked Monster and sympathised with her situation and her need to carry on no matter what, I would have perhaps appreciated just a bit more insight into her. My favourite chapters in this whole book were the ones in which she reflected on her upbringing but I don't think there were quite enough of them, personally.

The thing that I really cannot grasp though, is how we were led to believe that Monster Jnr could barely speak or remember her own upbringing except for a couple of vague memories and when Monster finds her, we discover that she is in fact older than she first appears and it's suggested that she's at least 10 years old. At least. The war ended 2 years previously, so that would make her at least 8 years old at that point, yet Monster Jnr is alarmed by snow and doesn't know basic words like "food", "chickens" and "bed" but is old enough to menstruate - really! I also really disliked how the reader was very much kept in the dark when Monster Jnr just suddenly knew how to do some things. It all felt very convenient and we never got an explanation as to how and why she knew how to do the things she did, we were expected to believe "she just knew!" Maybe it was purposefully vague, but it just didn't work. Some of the things Monster Jnr did is not common knowledge for a girl of her age and this ultimately led to one of the most disappointing endings I've ever read, which was extremely far fetched, especially considering the knowledge base of Monster Jnr.

Ultimately, what this books explores is motherhood and the identity and imprints that a mother-daughter relationship can leave on us, but I just couldn't get on board with the story that was trying to convey this message. Three quarters of the book were frustrating, especially Monster Jnr's part of the story and I was conclusively left wondering what the point of it all was. There were far too many convenient plot holes regarding Monster Jnr's knowledge and it was a rather bleak reading experience for me personally and I perhaps would have enjoyed this more if it were a short story.

Verdict: ★★

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