Warning: here be spoilers! Huge gargantuan spoilers.
More Than This is a young adult novel by Patrick Ness. It may also be a sci-fi novel and a dystopian novel. Or it might be neither of these. And that’s where the problem lies for me. The blurb of this book is:
A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies. Then he wakes, naked, 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?
That’s a lot of questions right there. And having read the 480 pages of this novel I am still not much clearer on the answers. Our protagonist Seth dies before we even get to chapter one of the story. Or does he? He ‘wakes’ in a seemingly abandoned world which he explores alone for 172 pages until he encounters some other characters and the book takes a new turn. Throughout part one of this book it seems likely that Seth has died and is experiencing some kind of afterlife. Or else, as Seth puts it, it’s all a dream ‘the last dream before death’. After Regine and Tomasz are introduced in part two, the story becomes more to do with what happened to the people of this abandoned world, and why. Seth’s former life abruptly goes from being his real life to potentially being a virtual reality.
I liked the characters in this book. I couldn’t help but have sympathy for Seth; a boy whose whole life was tainted by a decision he made when he was eight years old. I liked the fierceness of Regine and her ‘never give up’ attitude. I especially liked Tomasz who was incredibly sweet as well as being brave and resourceful. I wasn’t as keen on Seth’s friends in his ‘virtual life’; H and Monica were fairly one dimensional and I liked Gudmund and his relationship with Seth until the twist towards the end.
The biggest problem I had with this novel was the ending. I felt that there was a big build up, where so many different ideas were set up, and then instead of culminating in a stunning finale the novel just ended. It was hugely anticlimactic and I found myself very disappointed that I would not get to find out the truth.
Throughout the novel we are teased with the idea that the world Seth wakes up in may all be in his head, or perhaps it is hell. Or maybe the world he was in before wasn’t real. Things in this world seem too coincidental. Seth will think about something, for instance, that it’s weird that there are no animals in this world and a second later:
Foxes, he thinks. Actual foxes. At the very moment he thought about them. Almost as if he’d called them into being himself.
The virtual reality plot was eminently plausible to me so I found myself very frustrated when it seemed as if this was going to be the confirmed reality only for doubt to be thrown on it when, right at the end of the novel, Seth says:
If this was my brain trying to make sense of stuff…the Driver would be there, half-burnt, insane with revenge, waiting for one last attack before we do whatever it is we’re going to do.
And then that’s exactly what happened. The Driver appears, against all probability and that’s the moment that really pulled me out of the book. When it ended without telling us either way which version of reality was the ‘true’ one I was left with a feeling of huge disappointment.
Have people discovered a way to live their lives online (so fully immersed that they don’t even realise they aren’t in the ‘real world’)? Or was it, as Seth puts it just a dying brain making up one last story? Did the manner of Seth’s death (the fact that he hit his head in a particular place) mean that he got a second chance to live? Will he make things right with Gudmund? Will he confront his parents about the way they have treated him? Did his brother Owen survive the attack by the escaped prisoner or was he murdered, as the grave in the ‘real world’ would suggest? What happened to Regine and Tomasz once Seth went back to the ‘virtual’ world? Even if he came back, were they doomed to wander around in the ruined ‘real world’ until they all eventually died? Or would the people inhabiting the ‘virtual world’ wake up and reinhabit the ‘real world’? If not, would they survive now that Seth, Tomasz and Regine had destroyed their caretaker? Was the Driver just a caretaker and why was he so intent on harming the trio if, once he had incapacitated them, he was just going to heal them anyway?
Ultimately, I was left with too many unanswered questions for me to be satisfied. I came away from it feeling frustrated and, to a certain extent, cheated. I invested in the characters in this book and I was very disappointed to end the novel not even knowing if they were ‘real’.
For this reason More Than This only gets 2 ** from me.