The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first in a trilogy by Patrick Ness, written from the perspective of Todd Hewitt. Todd lives in Prentisstown, on New World. Except there are no women in Prentisstown, only Men and boys who have yet to become Men. And Men can hear each others every thoughts – there is no privacy in Prentisstown. Todd is still a boy, the last boy in Prentisstown, waiting to become a Man so he will have more company than his foster dads and his annoying talking dog Manchee. The “Noise” of men means that everyone can hear your thoughts, and you can hear everyone’s – except Todd doesn’t fit into their plans and being able to hear everyone’s thoughts doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. As Todd finds out when he discovers something he has never encountered before in the swamp. Silence. Todd finds Silence. And it isn’t quite what he was expecting.
Todd is forced to run, run from his home and run from the Men, thinking that his town is the only one on New World. And he learns about the secrets his town has been keeping, and everything he knows is thrown up in the air.
First things first, this is written “in voice” – so there are plenty of double negatives, and “aint’s” and “attenshun” – from the perspective of Todd. It is a different way of presenting a story and I enjoyed it, even if Todd’s thought processes can be a little scattered. And because animals have Noise as well, you hear everything Todd’s dog Manchee has to say as well. Some of the first lines are Manchee announcing he needs a poo. Beat that.
Todd is an interesting character. He is a boy desperate to turn 13 and officially become a Man because Men don’t talk to boys, and he is the last boy in Prentisstown. He is innocent, bought up in a corrupt society, and fair warning – he is a 12 year old boy with a tendency to get a bit sidetracked. He doesn’t understand why he has to run from his town, he just knows that his foster dads are terrified and they want him to run, run away. He can be cruel at times, in a reactionary lashing out because I’m hurt kind of cruelty.
Todd finds a girl in the swamp. And in running from Prentisstown he learns that they are not the only town, that women have survived, and that women are treated horribly. It’s interesting seeing misogyny through Todd’s eyes. How he doesn’t get why women are treated badly and standing up for Viola because he has never experienced misogyny before. Viola is Todd’s first friend, and watching that friendship and loyalty develop is refreshing. Viola doesn’t trust him for ages.
A lot of Todd’s emotional growth while running from Prentisstown and the men who are following them, is shown through his talking dog Manchee. I love Manchee – he isn’t your standard comic talking dog trope but Manchee is loyal, and ultimately still a dog. He can talk, but he talks almost in barks and repeated questions and unquestionable loyalty for Todd. Todd goes from being offended his dads foisted this stupid talking dog off on him to appreciating Manchee, loving him and watching out for him the same as he does Viola. Manchee is so loyal and lovely and willing to do whatever it takes to save Todd in his wonderfully dog-loyalty-way.
The themes in this book are very dark, and very frank – in true Patrick Ness style. There is mass murder, violence, death, sexism, and corruption repeated constantly in Todd’s fairly limited vocabulary. It ends on a cliff-hanger and I have already added the sequel to that lengthening post-dissertation reading list. This is a coming-of-age book, exploring what it means to be a “man” and conflating toxic masculinity as synonymous with manhood.
The Knife of Never Letting Go was an intense read, it was incredible and had a huge impact on me while I was sat on the train. I nearly cried at one point. Sat on a packed commuter train. I highly enjoyed this, and that cliff-hanger had me itching to buy the next one on the spot. I was reading on my kindle so I would have if I’d had internet access! Alas, I will have to wait – but I anticipate terrible but great things happening to Todd and Viola in the second instalment.