The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond

I was intrigued as soon as I read about The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean.

A crossover book, marketed to both children and adults. A book written by an award-winning author of books for children. I’d read a couple of them and I’d liked the mixture of reality and magic, earthiness and airiness. This new book had the potential to be something rather special.

I was a little worried though when my copy arrived and I discovered that the spelling was phonetic and that the use of language was colloquial and idiosyncratic. I can cope with such things, but I do find them a little distracting, and its easy to resent having to put extra work in just to work out what is being said.

To be fair though, I have to say that there was a good case for the choice of style.

The young Billy Dean, who tried and tried but could never get to grips with reading and writing, tells his own story.

“I wos a secrit shy and tungtied emptyheded thing. I wos tort to read and rite and spell by my tenda littl muther & by Mr McCaufrey the butcha & by Missus Malone and her gosts. So I am not cleva, so please forgiv my folts and my mistayks. I am the won that glares into your harts & that prowls insyde yor deepist dremes.”

Billy Dean was born in a small village in a country torn apart by war. And his mother raised him in secret, in a back room. The only other people who know he is there are his father and the woman who delivered him into the world. Three people conspire to keep Billy Dean a secret.

And he accepts, of course, the only world and the only way of living he has ever known.

But he can’t be hidden for ever. Eventually the world will see Billy Dean, and Billy Dean will see the world. The reactions, on both sides, are intriguing. And the consequences are extraordinary.

This is, at heart, a coming of age story, but it is much more that. It’s a book about manipulation, about perception, about faith, about what makes us human, about so many things.

Themes and idea are introduced gradually. Little hints are dropped.  And a much older story is echoed. There’s plenty to think about as the story builds.

And, though his situation and his story were extraordinary, Billy Dean’s voice rang true. I could see the world through his eyes.

And that made the prose style all the more infuriating. It was an interesting idea, but I wish I could have been freed from working so hard to understand the words to think more about what they conveyed.

I kept going because I could never be quite sure where the story was going. And I did want to know.

And now I do. And I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time.

4 responses

  1. That kind of stylistic choice (such spelling) can put me off a book straight away too, but when I do see a case for it (as you’ve said was true for you with this one), I often end up on the extreme-other side of the matter, insisting on the brilliance of that very aspect. I do love it when it works!

  2. The plot of this story sounds really good but the way it is written looks really frustrating. Just reading that small extract was difficult, nearly every word has been altered! I could see myself getting side tracked by that quite a bit so not sure how much I would like it.

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