Hale’s debut novel is an examination of power and changing mother-daughter relationships.
British author Katie Hale’s debut novel, My Name Is Monster, is an exploration of the mother-daughter relationship set against a backdrop of post-apocalyptic emptiness in modern Britain. The first half of the book is from the perspective of Monster, a woman who has survived the War and the Sickness that wiped out the Earth’s population by isolating herself physically and emotionally. While she is scavenging for food in an apparently empty city, she finds a young girl, alive and wild. At this point she gives the child her name, Monster, and renames herself Mother.
Mother, the first Monster, has survived up to this point by rejecting everyone she has ever known, including her own mother. Until she finds the child Monster, most of the story is flashbacks of her growing up, being bullied and unable to connect with her parents or anyone else. She takes pride in her isolation and self-reliance, but when the child Monster arrives in her life, she gives herself a new role and things begin to change.
I really enjoy apocalypse fiction – either before, during or after the fact – so I was looking forward to this book for that reason. However, here the apocalyptic setting acts more as a catalyst and a backdrop for exploring the two main characters. While their unfolding relationship is interesting, it’s quite a gentle story arc that I found difficult to really immerse myself in. In the beginning, I thought that Mother depicted a neuro-diverse person learning to connect with someone else in an otherwise empty world. But in the end that doesn’t seem to be the case; the way the story progresses suggests that she is disconnected and distanced from others entirely by choice. When the point of view switches to the child Monster, it becomes much harder to empathise with the first Monster, because in her new role as Mother, she is cruel and almost incapable of connecting with the child she has rescued. The child Monster learns to understand the world around her according to what Mother tells her, but she soon realises that Mother’s point of view is only one way of seeing the world, and thus the child Monster begins to forge her own path.
This work is ultimately about power, the ever-changing nature of relationships, the roles we play in each other’s lives, and what we need from each other. Without giving too much away the work ends on a note of hope, and the story, despite its flaws, is satisfactorily rounded out.
3 stars out of 5 ★★★
My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale
Publisher: A&U Canongate Books
Categories: Fiction, science fiction, apocalyptic fiction
Release Date: July 2019