My Name is Monster by Katie Hale
Published by Canongate Books, Ltd on June 6, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 3.69 (as of 2020-05-05)
After the Sickness has killed off her parents, and the bombs have fallen on the last safe cities, Monster emerges from the arctic vault which has kept her alive. When she washes up on the coast of Scotland, everyone she knows is dead, and she believes she is alone in an empty world.
Monster begins the long walk south, scavenging and learning the contours of this familiar land made new. Slowly, piece by piece, she begins to rebuild a life. Until, one day, she finds a girl: feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. Changing her own name to Mother, Monster names the child after herself. As young Monster learns from Mother, she also discovers her own desires, realising that she wants very different things to the woman who made, but did not create, her.
I can really appreciate the appeal behind this novel, even if it didn’t do much for me personally. This is a quiet post-apocalyptic character study of two characters: Monster-turned-Mother and Monster (the second). The naming seems confusing, but it absolutely makes sense within the story and is quite easy to follow. The first half of the novel follows Monster (to-be-Mother) as she travels home following an apocalyptic war slash disease. The “Sickness” itself is more of a backstory and isn’t much focused on itself, but some of the flashbacks did remind me of the current situation we’re dealing with. Close to the halfway point, Monster comes across a young girl and decides to change her own name to Mother while referring to the girl as Monster.
I have not survived this long only to die on a shit-splattered beach in Scotland.
The concept is strange, but it works. The first half is a combination of flashbacks and present-day as Monster-to-be-Mother reflects on her life and deals with the struggles of surviving alone in a lonely, barren landscape. This is flipped in the second half as (the new) Monster bemoans the woes of her restrictive life and looks down upon Mother for her fear and dependency on their lifestyle. It was so frustrating for me to read Monster’s perspective since she’s the post-apocalyptic version of the spoiled brat. We learn in the first half of the novel the extensive trauma Mother has undergone and the pains she took to get where she is now. Monster follows this up by insisting she is braver than Mother and by continually placing herself in dangerous situations — or trying to.
People always marvel at waterfalls, and nobody pays enough attention to the chasm underneath.
I think, though, this is part of the point of the novel. Because Mother tries to forget her trauma instead of processing it and teaching Monster about the true dangers of the world, she enables this way of behavior and thinking. Monster cannot learn from Mother’s experiences if Mother does not share them. The problem is that it is just too difficult for me to read books where things could be solved by some simple communication. If Mother had just opened up, or given some kind of explanations to Monster, this all could have been averted. Regardless, it is fairly well-written and as I said, I can see the appeal.
Decisions made at night are tricksters, elusive and fickle, slippery as fish.
I do wish some things were explained further. I don’t know if certain plot points just went over my head, or what. (The second) Monster’s past was so confusing to me. I know it was difficult to spell things out more clearly since she did not have the language to communicate it, but I was… not really sure what had happened to her. I think one of the plot points of her past was weirdly far-fetched and didn’t make any sense without explanation. Every time it came up, I was so confused!
[…]maybe healing really means making something different. Maybe getting better doesn’t mean going back to how it used to be, but moving forwards instead[…]
Overall, though, I’d say this is worth reading if it sounds like it suits you. Like I said, it is a character study so there isn’t a TON of plot. It’s not your typical post-apocalyptic read, so I’d go for this if you like something a little more literary.
content warnings: apocalyptic war; graphic depictions of wounds; death of a loved one.
My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings: