I thought I’d try and get September off to a good start by reviewing a new release, so today I want to talk about The Monsters We Deserve, which comes out tomorrow. As usual, this was a book I recieved via NetGalley in return for a review. I sometimes forget to mention that, so for future reference, anything categorised as ‘NetGalley Reads’ was provided by the publishers, all my reviews are my honest opinion, etc etc.
I’ve read a few books by Marcus Sedgwick and they’re almost all exceptionally odd, so this one didn’t take me too much by surprise — I was expecting beautiful prose and a narrative that tied my brain in knots and that’s more or less what I got.
The prose is, indeed, beautiful, in a self-inserty kind of way that probably appeals particularly to writers. The narrator is a writer (implied to be Sedgwick himself due to use of initials) who has retreated to a house in the Alps to write a book which seems to be a condemnation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which he claims to hate. His struggles to write are lovingly described in the terms of someone who has clearly felt that same creative block in the past — it’s both relatable and lovely, at least in terms of prose, and I highlighted a dozen phrases to come back to later.
The story, however, is decidedly unlovely (in a good way) (I think). It becomes increasingly threatening as this writer begins to hear breathing, finds objects moved around the house, lose track of time… at first subtly, and then growing more obvious until he finds himself physically prevented from trying to leave.
Then he’s visited by the ghost of Mary Shelley, and things get stranger from there.
The book leaves a lot up to your imagination. Is it really a ghost story? Is the writer suffering from a mental breakdown, or being poisoned by leaky gas? (Mentioned near the beginning is a dodgy gas pipe, and a smell ‘like gas’ is repeatedly referenced throughout the story, which might explain the hallucinations and loss of time.) It’s unsettling, and Sedgwick does a remarkable job of conveying incoherent thoughts without the prose becoming clunky or unreadable.
My main complaint would be that the book is a little bit too self-referential. That doesn’t feel like the right term, but it’s the best one I’ve got. As I mentioned already, the writer is implied to be Sedgwick himself — maybe that’s why it feels a little cheesy in places, because he’s casting himself in the role of a writer that Mary Shelley would respect enough to visit. (Not that I’m saying she wouldn’t, you know? Just that it’s… bold, I guess.)
It’s hard to explain the exact moments that bothered me without giving spoilers, to be honest, and I try and keep reviews as spoiler-free as possible. I’d been enjoying it thoroughly for stylistic reasons, but once the plot really kicked in, it began to lose me.
I’m trying to think of comparative titles and I guess I might reference the ending of I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak (is it a Marcus thing?). If you haven’t read that, I won’t spoil it for you, but if you have, perhaps you’ll know what I mean. This was definitely less frustrating (less buildup and it wasn’t such a plot-related copout), but it gave me a similar feeling. I suppose I’m just particularly sensitive to things that feel like a self insert fic where the writer is exploring a weird daydream-turned-nightmare.
The prose and style is definitely a strength, though, and the ultimate message — that you can’t control your own creations, but that you’re responsible for how they’re interpreted and what they’re used to achieve — is a powerful one.
It’s tough to rate — the prose is four or five stars for sure. I think my overall rating would probably be 3.5 stars, but I’m going to round down on this occasion.
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