Though very good in many ways, More Than This left me wanting exactly that. 3.5/5 stars.
What it’s about: A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive. How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place? As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?
As you can see from the fact I gave it 3.5 stars, I think this is a very good book. The writing, as always from Patrick Ness, is superb. His style is deceptively clear and simple, something which only increases its impact. When the punches land, they land hard.
The characters are also well-developed and diverse in terms of age, gender, sexuality, nationality and race. I particularly loved Tomasz who, for all the terrible things he has suffered, is still a bundle of positive energy.
The story pulls you in, and at points it’s gripping and exciting. As I have come to expect from Ness, there are also terrifically moving moments all rolled together with difficult issues (child abuse, murder, teen suicide, to name a few) and large philosophical questions (what is reality? can we ever truly know when we’re dreaming or awake? if you could forget your painful memories, would you choose to do so?).
But, despite all these points strongly in its favour, I got to the end of More Than This and felt something was missing. The whole thing fell flat for me. I’m still not sure I can pinpoint exactly why. Here are the niggles I have been able to identify…
Certain “confrontational” aspects of the narrative started to become repetitive (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here). So much so, in fact, the main character makes a joke that “if this were a movie then X would happen, but that can’t happen because that would be totally crazy”. And then, lo and behold, it does happen! I felt perhaps Ness knew he’d shown us the same scene too many times and by making the characters make jokes about the improbability of the same situation occurring yet again, he could get away with it.
Seth, the main character, wasn’t my favourite and I didn’t care about him in the way I did Todd Hewitt in the Chaos Walking trilogy. This made it difficult for me to become deeply involved in the narrative as a whole.
I think I’ve come to expect greater originality from Ness. [SPOILER ALERT] Unfortunately, key aspects of the story reminded me of The Matrix and so I had the same issues with More Than This as with those movies. In other words, my mind wouldn’t stop picking things apart. Where’s the magic electricity coming from to power all the pods? How do the pods keep these people alive when there are so few tubes going in and out? When the Driver is finally destroyed, who’s going to look after all the people in the pods? Etc. etc.
And finally, I found the ending disappointing [MORE SPOILERS HERE] because I didn’t believe that Seth would have chosen to go back into the simulated reality so quickly. [SPOILERS OVER]
Overall: if you’ve got this far, please remember I gave this book 3.5 stars which is a very good rating! If this had been my first Patrick Ness book, I think I might have been more blown away by its positive qualities. But coming to it after the earth-shattering brilliance of A Monster Calls and the inventive marvel that is the Chaos Walking trilogy, I think More Than This suffered by comparison and from my high expectations. Perhaps, when it comes to this reviewer, Patrick Ness is a victim of his own ludicrously high standards. And that isn’t really a bad thing, is it?