Chaos Walking: I Know What You're Thinking.
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If you haven’t yet read the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness you need to get started with all haste as the big screen adaptation is Coming Soon.
A script has been written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) which seems a promising match. The movie will, reportedly, be directed by Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and star Daisy Ridley (excellent, I thought, as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
The first thing you will notice about the books is that they are HUGE, proper door-stoppers, but don’t let that put you off. The words jump off the page and the pages fly by. These are heart-pounding, edge-of-your-bed-‘till- you-finish kind of books.
The series is set on a far away planet, to which humans have fled, escaping their war-torn home and hoping to begin,
‘a new way of life, one clean and simple and honest and good.’
The earliest pioneers are dismayed to find that New World throws up some surprising challenges. The key issue is this: on New World men can read each other’s Noise. A man can have no secrets, no private thoughts. His neighbours are privy to his every emotion, intention and deepest desire.
‘The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.’
A leader emerges, Mayor Prentiss, whose charismatic noise attracts men like a Pied Piper. He learns how to use Noise to his best advantage. He appreciates that knowledge is power and ‘knowledge is dangerous.’ He manipulates men like sheep but the female settlers prove to be a stumbling block.
Women, in contrast to the men, can read Noise but don’t reveal their own. Imagine a world (try hard) where men can’t understand what women are thinking, where men must take a woman at her word even though she can read his innermost thoughts. (Are you finding this difficult?)
What would a ruthless, power-hungry man do with those women? Shackle them? Isolate them? Would he murder them? All we know is that they are gone.
Only one boy, the youngest in town, remains to be claimed by Mayor Prentiss. Todd Hewitt, on the very cusp of manhood, happens across an oasis of silence. That silence turns out to be a girl called Viola who will lead Todd away from the control of Mayor Prentiss and onward, he hopes, towards that clean and simple new way of life.
That’s just the beginning.
Book One, The Knife of Never Letting Go, is narrated by Todd and focuses on his flight with Viola from Mayor Prentiss. Book Two, The Ask and the Answer, is narrated alternately by Todd and Viola who find themselves entangled in a civil war. By Book Three, Monsters of Men, the war has escalated to and inter-species World War which threatens ultimate destruction. There is no let up in the pace of these books as Todd and Viola lurch from one crisis to the next.
Patrick Ness uses simple language but his writing is innovative and engaging. The characters are superbly filled out which is vital as Ness sets out to illustrate that no person is all good or completely evil. Todd Hewitt begins as an innocent boy, ‘the boy who can’t kill,’ but the world tests him, over and over, teaching him what it means to face impossible choices and what it means to have integrity;
‘Choices may be unbelievably hard but they’re never impossible. To say you have no choice is to release yourself from responsibility and that’s not how a person with integrity acts.’
Mayor Prentiss is a delight as the baddie you love to hate and the question of his redemption becomes the ultimate cliff-hanger.
Viola Eade, as Todd’s tower of strength, is perhaps the least interesting of the main characters as though Patrick Ness genuinely couldn’t quite see inside her head.
The cast of minor characters is superb. Mistress Coyle is a brilliant sort of ninja-nun; a dedicated healer and a terrorist freedom fighter. Wilf is a simple honest man with more integrity than is generally believed to be humanly possible.
Best of all are the animals. Manchee, Todd’s dog, is without doubt the best dog I’ve ever read. I would argue with Patrick Ness that he should have been as brave with his human characters as he was with the four-legged heroes. I’d love to know what you think.
If you are looking for a book which demonstrates the horror and senselessness of war there are others which do so more poetically and in far fewer pages. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque remains unsurpassed in its poignancy.
Chaos walking considers the perennial themes of power, tyranny and redemption but, excels where it tackles issues relevant to the age we live in.
Ness puts the reader firmly in the shoes of refugees, people who have fled from war and have no option of returning home.
Chaos Walking asks readers to think about what it means to live with a constant stream of information;
‘In this world of numbness and information overload, the ability to feel, my boy, is a rare gift indeed.’
Readers are required to consider the role of women in society;
‘Usually when a man calls a woman a bitch...it’s because she’s doing something right.’
I imagine it was this relevance which inspired my Teenage Daughter’s English teacher to put The Knife of Never Letting Go at the top of her summer reading list. Personally, I have been urging the Chaos Walking series on all and sundry simply because they are a cracking good read.
With writing that leaves you almost no time to think, Patrick Ness gives you with plenty to take away.
Come back and tell me, who should voice Manchee?