The Monster Who Wasn’t by TC Shelley is a beguiling children’s novel, that opens with a baby laughing, a death, and the birth something very special. I’ve been sharing this book with my son during recent weeks, and he has been completely gripped by it. He’s been moved to tears, punched the air in triumph, and begged on more than one occasion for “just one more chapter.” It really is a very special book.
Here are my 5 reasons to read The Monster Who Wasn’t.
1. The Gargoyles.
Before discussing anything about plot, suspense, and prose style, the bang-on number one reason to read this book is because of the three gargoyles that live on a church roof. They are three of the finest characters to grace children’s fiction and both my son and I absolutely loved them.
2. Classic Children’s Writing.
T C Shelley’s style in The Monster Who Wasn’t is very reminiscent of children’s classics, like The Box of Delights and Tom’s Midnight Garden. It captures the sense of “other”, in the same manner as those books. Books like Harry Potter wear their fantasy bold and bright; they’re clearly not real, nor are we meant to think this is actually happening. (I appreciate this observation might be up for debate!). Books like Box and Delights and The Monster Who Wasn’t feel like their events could be going on right under our noses, if only we could saw the world slightly differently.
Like many classic novels, the prose style isn’t immediately accessible. The story lingers over the details; the writing isn’t all action and “wow” words. The vocabulary used in the book is rich; it makes you appreciate the variety and depth of language. This may mean the book isn’t suitable for every child to read alone but it’s brilliant to read aloud.
3. It’s A Modern Fairy Tale.
The Monster Who Wasn’t is filled with pixies, brownies, ogres, and trolls. There are witches, changelings, a magic sword and a quest into the Underworld. The story draws heavily on folk and fairy tales and brings them right up to date. Much like the classic novels above and many folk and fairy tales, The Monster Who Wasn’t is something of morality tale. Not in a dour, dare I say it, “Narnian” way, but there are definitely lessons to be learned when reading. The Monster Who Wasn’t is, at its heart, a warning against greed and selfishness.
4. The Grotesque and the Beautiful.
There is a fabulous juxtaposition in the novel of the grotesque and the beautiful. The “monster who wasn’t,” is created by the merging of the first laugh of a newborn and the last sigh of the deceased. This amalgamation its creation of central character, “the imp,” sets the tone for the entire book.
The novel is filled with beauty, but often that is matched with darkness. The imp is the embodiment of hope, in what often appears to be a hopeless world.
5. It’ll Warm Your Cockles.
This book will put you through the emotional wringer. That is part of its brilliance. The themes in the book probably best suit older children (say age 10+) as there is some quite heavy stuff here, centered around loss and the existence of souls. Whilst the book has its dark moments, it is also heartwarming in the extreme. It’s impossible to read it without becoming a little choked. The imp and the gargoyles are wonderful, emotionally resonant characters and you will find yourself caring desperately what happens to them.
The Monster Who Wasn’t is a children’s novel of the highest order. It’s an emotionally resonant tale that invokes old folk-tales and is reminiscent of the classics of children’s literature. Lyrically written, and filled with patches of despair and wonder, its range of themes ensure this novel can be enjoyed by both children and adults. As our children get older, we tend to shy away from reading bedtime stories (despite there being studies that suggest we should do it for as long as possible.) The Monster Who Wasn’t is perfect for reading to older children. It’s gripping with fascinating use of language, so your child won’t feel like a baby, and there are lots of deep themes in the book to discuss as you go.
If none of that convinces you, just read it for the gargoyles.
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other 5 Reasons to Read columns.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.