Book Review

My Name is Monster by Katie Hale

my name is monster

I loved the sound of My Name is Monster as soon as I heard about it, and I was thrilled to be sent a copy for review by the lovely team at Canongate.

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: another survivor, feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. But the lessons the girl learns are not always those Monster means to teach…

Inspired by Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein, My Name Is Monster is a novel about power, about the things that society leaves imprinted on us when the rules no longer apply, and about the strength and the danger of a mother’s love.

My Name is Monster is set in a near future in which humanity has been almost wiped out.  Our protagonist, Monster (called that by her father as a child, and which stuck as some nicknames are wont to do), has survived by holing up in the Seed Vault in Svalbard.  After sailing to Scotland, she slowly makes her way south.  As she travels, the reader begins to understand more about the cause of humanity’s demise, brought about through a combination of war, bombings, and a laboratory-created sickness spread through viral warfare.  Who started it and why isn’t clear, but the results are all too apparent as Monster moves through a landscape completely devoid of human life and the hustle and bustle of civilisation.  Hale portrays this landscape brilliantly – it’s eerie and desolate, and while plant and animal life continue, Monster’s solitude is evoked beautifully.  There’s a strong sense of hopelessness through Monster’s narrative, with little hope for the future beyond day to day survival.

Hope is a killer.  It puffs you up like a balloon, then turns away as reality jabs like a needle.  Hope is no help to a survivor.

While not an ideal situation for most, Monster is at least well suited to being alone, and the reader comes to understand more about her as she reflects on her past.  Considered an awkward child by those around her, she has always been happiest on her own and had few friends as a child.  Fierce and determined, she was no pushover, and found herself in a reasonable amount of trouble through fighting those who tried to bully her.  Forever taking things apart to understand how they work, it’s no surprise that she became an engineer, giving her another edge in the survival stakes.  While ideally suited to being alone, I did find Monster’s attitude a little odd.  She has survived the apocalypse herself – admittedly in unusual circumstances – but I wouldn’t have assumed that I was the only one to have done so.  She is wary and constantly on guard, but more against the feral dogs that might see her as a decent meal than because she might run into another survivor.  It felt like a rash assumption to me, although it is perhaps explained by the lack of evidence of any others having survived.

The narration changes part way through the novel, switching to the perspective of a young child Monster finds during her journey.  Calling her Monster, our original Monster becomes Mother, and the two make a life of sorts for themselves in a farmhouse next to an unnamed city.  I loved the contrast between these two characters.  Our original Monster holds extremely jaded views about humanity and a distinct lack of concern about civilisation’s demise.  Monster 2, on the other hand, is much more hopeful, having not had as a much time before the end to form such a negative view of the world.  Her naivety, which in a modern setting might be irritating, takes on a much more optimistic light in the context of the novel.  The plot takes something of an unexpected turn in the second part of the novel, and while I don’t want to go into the details, it’s certainly an interesting twist, and one that changed the tone of the novel.

A unique take on a post-apocalyptic situation, My Name is Monster is a fascinating look at survival against the odds.  It’s a well-written novel, and one that I read in a single sitting – it’s a story that draws you in and makes you care about what happens.  Monster – the original Monster – is a unique character, and has a fascinating tale to tell.

My Name is Monster was published in June by Canongate.  Many thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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