A/N: Spoilers ahead!
A Monster Calls was a heart wrenching and bittersweet read. Full of emotion and heart felt stories, we are swept along with Conor and his story, the tragic tale that many children are subjected to – the death of a parent due to cancer. From the beginning, Conor hides from a nightmare that he has, one that we later find out is a dream that he feels guilty for having. He is a conflicted, broken and hurt young teen, the feelings he has – the anger and utter dismay – are ones that anyone living with someone who is terminally ill will recognise. Or any human being can relate to.
At school, he only has one friend, Lily who he pushes away and blames for standing up to the bullies, Harry, Sully and Anton. He hates the sympathy and lies his teachers tell him – the constant looks of sadness and understanding they give him. As a child in denial about his mother’s illness, one who knows the truth but has buried it long ago, who does not want people giving them looks that convey sadness, Conor tries to show the ones around him that he’s fine. As someone who related to Conor, I understood where he was coming from.
To begin with, I was slightly thrown as to why he pushed Lily away, but when it is revealed that she told people about his mother, I saw why. My mum had breast cancer when I was young and has battled with depression for most of her life, so when people at school found out, they of course, started asking questions, talking about me, asking if I was okay – bearing in mind these were people who usually ignored me. Conor’s story is not a unique one, in that many families have the same tale to tell, but that is what makes this story so harrowing – the sheer amount of people that die from this disease, is awful.
Conor is plagued by a monster he sees in the yew tree in the garden. And every night, the tree comes to him at 12:07am, to tell him a story. Conor refuses to be scared of this monster because there are far worse demons he has to deal with – the bullies at school, the abandonment he feels because of his father moving away, the harshness of his grandmother, the impending death of his mother and how that will affect him and everyone around him. For a thirteen-year-old, this is a lot to have on your shoulders, but time and time again, he shows his family how strong he is. But how that strength comes with a price, that his frustration, anger and misery are slowly eating away at him.
The monster tells him three stories – one of a prince who murdered his lover, the second of an apothecary who let the daughters of a parson die and the last, of someone who is invisible. Conor does not see the importance of any of these stories until the very end, when the monster explains – how can a witch be both good and bad? How can a man be smart and kind, but cruel? How can a person be selfish but lonely and desperate for love at the same time? The monster, in each story helps the person, we as readers and Conor, would not think need helping.
Just as it is with Conor and his mother.
Conor thinks the monster is there to heal his mother, but really, he is there to heal Conor. The fourth tale comes from Conor himself, who has a reoccurring nightmare about his mother dying and how he left her fall off a cliff side into the clutches of an awful monster. Cancer. It is then that we know the reason why the monster has come – Conor wanted his mother’s pain to end, he wanted it all to be over. He didn’t want his mother to die in the dream but holding on was becoming too much, it was eating away at his heart and he couldn’t bare it anymore. So, in the dream, he let go when he could’ve held on. But that does not mean that he meant it – it was just his sub consciousness telling him that it is okay to wish for the pain to end, without wanting his mother to die.
He didn’t mean to let her go. He doesn’t want to, but knows that he must. His mother is going to die and this whole time, he’s been lying to himself, telling himself that his mother will be okay, in the hopes of removing the nightmare thought – that he let her go, that he gave up, that he wished for her death. That is not the truth at all.
He only wanted her pain to end, for her to be okay. But that meant her dying. He wanted a cure, he wanted the monster to heal his mother. He wanted the end – to take away his pain, how it made him feel, how alone it made him, how scared he was just waiting for the end, day in, day out, waiting for someone to tell him that his mother was passing.
The monster helped him to see that it is okay.
In wishing for it to end, for his pain to end, Conor believed he was selfish, that he was at fault for his mother falling in the dream and now in real life. But the monster tells him that he was merely wishing for the most human thing – to end suffering. The mind contradicts itself a hundred times a day – he wanted to let her go but was desperate to save her. His mind would believe the comforting lies – that she’ll get better – and the painful truths – that she will die – and drive him mad for it.
The monster explains that it is okay to have contradictory thoughts, human beings are complex, messy and strange, they have two opposing thoughts at the same time. The important thing is, to not carry out the bad thought – to not act on the thought that keeps you up at night. It speaks not only for this disease, but for those dealing with mental health problems, or any kind of personal battle. In the end, he must admit the truth to his mother – that he doesn’t want her to go, but he must let her go.
And the moment, the monster says kindly, has not come just yet. It was 12:07 and Conor holds onto his mother, and in doing so, he could finally let her go.
This story brought me to tears. I felt this guilt for arguing with my mother when she tried to commit suicide, for being unable to look at her, for needing her when she needed us, for understanding, for her being so motherly even when she felt so low, for supporting her and loving her when my heart was breaking, for when my aunt passed away and I didn’t get to say goodbye, for not telling my friend that he meant the whole to my best friend, for not saying and doing all the things I should have. And in the end, I realised that, as Conor’s mother says, they already knew.
What happened is not fair, it is not right – to lose someone is awful.
But the guilt we feel, the pain and sorrow is completely normal, as is the anger and betrayal. Because, they know, they’ll always know. Without you saying it at all.
And that is okay.