REVIEW Release by Patrick Ness

“For me, Release doesn’t hit that high Patrick Ness mark”

There are two stories in Patrick Ness’s new book, Release. There’s the story of one terrible day in Adam Thorn’s life when all the relationships in his life suddenly distort and his life seems to be unravelling quite out of his control. Then there is the story of a ghost, a destructive spirit and a mythical creature who have risen from the town’s lake on the same day to sow destruction upon the town and possibly the world.

Patrick Ness has called Release part Forever and part Mrs Dalloway. The Judy Blume part is relatively easy to see. His depiction of Adam’s sexual experiences are a pretty near match for Blume’s bald details, though Ness’s version is the more beautifully written and seems more heartfelt. I haven’t read the Virginia Woolf, so I can’t comment on this except to say I believe the structure mirrors Mrs Dalloway and also that from my experience of other Woolf, Ness’s voice here is close to Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique, though in Adam’s part of the story we remain in Adam’s head rather than seeing though many eyes. It’s beautifully done, a shifting focus in and out of Adam’s mind, wide shot to take in what’s going on, a little closer now, right in his mind in the moment and then deep into his memory.

I love Patrick Ness. No, scrub that. The bits of Patrick Ness’s work that I love, I love profoundly. I think More Than This is almost perfect. The Chaos Walking trilogy was more involving, unexpected and thought-provoking than anything I have read for a long time before or since. With each new Patrick Ness book, I long to repeat those reading experiences. But for me, Release, like 2015’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, doesn’t hit that high Patrick Ness mark.

On the one hand, there is Adam’s story, which is moving and ultimately uplifting, easy to empathise with, but slight, too slight to exist on its own. And then there is the ghost story. This, you imagine must be a comment on Adam’s story. But what is it trying to say? That chaos is something supernatural and out of your control? That everyone’s existence is the sum of their past experiences? That sometimes you have to let go of things you hold dear in order to move on? Perhaps there isn’t a key at all, and it’s simply that one story is intended to resonate off the other. I apologise for my prosaic nature, but I prefer my meaningful subtext a little bit more spelled out.

Claire Watts


More to Read!

You should read everything Patrick Ness has written. I know I said some of them were less good, but honestly, Patrick Ness is brilliant, so his less good is everyone else’s total top form. I know I’ve only given Release 3 piranhas, but that’s because I thought I should judge it against his other books rather than against other people’s.


Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is Gingerbread & Cupcake


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