The Book Itself: Careful, it might make you dizzy. The graphic background really makes the yellow doorway (which is indented slightly in the hardcopy) stand out. Very mysterious and intriguing.
My Review: A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.
Then he wakes, naked and 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?
I had picked up and put down this book in bookstores several times, always uncertain because the description doesn’t really describe anything. What the heck was this story about? What was I supposed to expect? When it went on sale at a used bookstore, I finally caved and bought it.
It is a rather brick-like book. Nearly 500 pages, it is a lengthy buy-in for not knowing what you’re getting into. This book banks on no one knowing what is going on at any given moment. And that works to build suspense and tension, but eventually we need answers to make the journey worth it. And More Than This fell flat on several of those counts in the closing scenes.
Seth dies, and wakes up in his old home in England, where something terrible happened in his past. The beginning drags a bit, as it is mainly a montage of Seth finding clothing, food, and shelter, and feeling generally weak and sick. He is constantly tired and when he sleeps, he has vivid dreams that fill in more and more of his memory gaps.
Eventually, we do get an enemy, and we do get other characters (spoiler? Come on, it would be a poor showing if Seth were just alone the entire novel). The story begins to pick up then, with all the hiding and running and backstory fill-in that is now necessary. But it all seems like a great big build up to some big event, some greater understanding of this purgatory or eighth dimension, or whatever it is they are in.
We do get a final showdown – actually we get several – but they don’t answer the reader’s and Seth’s questions about the world he’s found himself in. Why does reality seem to bend to his will? Why is he always rescued in just the nick of time, every time? (I am glad that Ness has his character voice this question, otherwise I would have asked it myself and the book’s tension would have lost its sparkle for me: he’s in danger, but I know he’ll get out of it in the next three sentences) Is he living in reality? Or some kind of limbo/side world/hell? So there are a lot of questions, poised to be answered, ready to make this book really powerful and thought-provoking.
And NONE OF THOSE QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED.
The reader never gets a straight answer as to why this world is the way it is. Seth’s future inside or outside of it literally fades to black, and the identity of the bad guy is never truly revealed.
I hate poor endings. And I dislike investing time in a book, especially a long one that was showing promise as being a suspenseful, meaningful story, only to fall apart on delivering key answers for the plot and themes. I liked Seth. I liked his background and the backgrounds of the other characters (maybe “liked” is an improper description. The backstories involved a number of horrors, but the way they were delivered was meaningful and emotional). And the ending does make an attempt at a hastily thrown together metaphor for life: it doesn’t matter what happens to you in this life or the next one (or whatever you believe Seth’s alternate reality is a metaphor for), if you are at peace with it, and can see a picture bigger than yourself, you have found happiness.
Or something like that. I was just so frustrated with getting to the last page and having that be the last thought, that I didn’t allow it to sink in.
If you’re okay with a metaphor-heavy ending, and having the bigger mysteries unsolved but constantly questioned throughout the story, this really isn’t terrible. But I felt the book could have been so much more impactful and meaningful…and it just wimped out on itself.
My Grade: C-