“With All His Aching Heart”: A Review of ‘RELEASE’ by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of those authors whose name you know even if you have never read a single one of his books. You have seen his books in bookstores, in your libraries and even in the hands of your friends. But if ever there was a time to pick up a Patrick Ness novel, it is now.

Release, the newest book from Ness, has been published this month, and it is a total gem. The book follows Adam who is having one of the most confronting days of his life. From friends moving away to family issues to relationship crises to workplace harassment and down to his own struggle to feel loved by the people around him, Release unabashedly tackles some of the most poignant themes and issues of being a young person with eye opening clarity.

Release carries with it echoes of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, a deliberate choice acknowledged by the author both in his author’s note and in the opening line of the novel – “Adam would have to buy the flowers himself.” I have never been the biggest fan of Mrs Dalloway, but Ness’ homage to the classic is brilliantly done. Much like Mrs Dalloway, Release takes place over the course of a single day with flashes of the past colouring the book in vivid detail. More than that, it is a carefully preserved flash of what it is like to be a young person in a world that is often still stuck in the past.

Release also owes a debt of gratitude to Judy Blume’s infamous Forever. The frank and somewhat explicit depictions of sex, discussions around loss of virginity and the boundaries of love and sex in relationships are crucial in the telling of this story, particularly when it comes to Adam’s ability to recognise and define his own attachments to other people. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing X-rated in these pages, but I would not recommend this book to younger readers. In my opinion, Release fits more aptly into the category of New Adult fiction than young Adult fiction, but I leave this up to your own judgement.

What made this book different from the typical Young Adult/New Adult novels I have read about young love, sex, and identity, was the strange yet stunning intertwinement of the ghost storyline into the book. At times, the sudden break in Adam’s storyline and shift into the perspective of the faun spirit following his Queen seemed abrupt and weird, yet it was entrancing all the same. Stemming from the news of the death of a local girl at the hands of her meth-head boyfriend, the spirit storyline brought with it the same sort of power as Adam’s storyline, as Katie, the young dead girl, confronts the people she knew in life, including her murderer, to enact her final judgements upon them. Paralleled with Adam’s grief and difficulties with his family, the spirits give the reader a chance to see what anger could have done to him in his times of pain, and what vengeance he could enact on the people who hurt him. However, it is Adam’s choice to be vulnerable and open to love that makes him fundamentally different, and what inadvertently ends the rage of the spirits.

My one criticism of this novel is the open thread left regarding the sexual harassment Adam faces at work from his boss. Seeing the struggle Adam has with the imbalance of power and the potential consequences of reporting his boss, alongside his own father’s doubt about the legitimacy and basis of the crime is one of the parts of this novel that really got at me, and so I would have liked to have seen some closure regarding this particular event. The novel ends with Adam’s co-workers pledging to help him get justice for the harassment, but ultimately, I think that I would have liked to see more done here. In saying that though, the conversation Adam has with his father about the sexual harassment and blackmail is one of the most heartbreaking discussions I have read in fiction lately, especially when it concludes with Adam’s father blaming Adam’s homosexuality for the advances from his boss, and final admission that he doesn’t love his son unconditionally – “You have know idea how much I work to love you”. Those words were a punch to the gut for both Adam and I.

Ness’ prose is exquisite. The ease and pulse of the writing meant that I devoured this book in just under 24 hours, whilst taking in every detail described. I felt at home in this story, despite some of the unfamiliar territory it covered. I felt as though Adam’s friend Angela was my own friend, and honestly, I did see a lot of my own friendships in the close bond that Adam and Angela shared. The friendship between them is one of the big standouts of this novel for me, and I think that is what held this novel together so well in amongst all the chaos of the events themselves. I think it is fair to say that this is a coming of age story for people who have already taken their first steps in adulthood, and reading this book with that perspective only enriches the story that Ness gives us in Release.

This is a novel that I will be passing onto friends, and I highly encourage you to get out and get your hands on a copy of this moving and tender novel. You won’t regret it.

Release

Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, RRP $24.99) is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to buy from and support their local independent bookstores and support independent press.

Thank you once again to Walker Books Australia for sending me a copy of Release. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.

 

© Hayley New 2017

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