The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean: telt by hisself - David Almond

This novel is a challenge, not only because there is nothing easy about it (Almond makes his readers work for their rewards), but also because the writing style is so unique in many ways. If you've ever read Blood Red Road by Moira Young, you'll be familiar with the phonetic spelling in the narrative voice, though Billy Dean is much more extreme in this sense. Here's a little taste so you'll know what I'm talking about:
This tail is told by 1 that died at birth by 1 that came into the world in days of endles war & at the moment of disaster. 
He grew is isolayshon wile the enjins of destrucshon flew & smoke rose over the sitys & wile winderness & waste crept all acros the world. 
He grew up with the birds & mise as friends. 
So as you can see, it's not just the difficulty of being thrown into the middle of Billy Dean's life that might confuse the average reader, but also the style in which the tale is told. We don't know anything about Billy Dean, except that he is a boy who is hidden away behind a locked door, a secret to all those left in the town of Blinkbonny except for his mother and father. He spends most of his time looking at pictures of animals and wishing he could be them or be with them. He plays god and pretends to drown them sometimes, weeping for the loss. He is not educated in any formal or traditional sense, but his father and mother do teach him to speak and learn which animals are which. Billy becomes fascinated by the mice in the house and even takes to cutting them up and trying to make a book from their skins (don't worry, it's not as random or gruesome as it may sound.)

Billy's mother is a hairdresser who comes a goes between work, and sometimes his unpredictable and sometimes violent father shows up to ask Billy if he's had dreams or visions. The religious components of earlier moments in the text, such as the naming of animals and the playing out of a great flood, work as clues which help us piece together the influences of Billy's father, who was once a priest in the community, but who is now a wanderer who seems to have lost his way. The religious components continue through the story as Billy, who is eventually let out of his room into the real world, and his mother find bits and pieces of two statues: a baby Jesus and an angel.

After meeting Missus Malone and the town butcher, Mr. McCaufrey, Billy gets more involved in life in the town, though trying not to bring too much attention to the fact that he was born there in secret, as his young mother fears what may happen with all the unsettling notions of war still surrounding them all. Billy works as a medium for Missus Malone, an older woman who seems to be a bit of a town midwife as well as nurse and helper of the spiritually and emotionally wounded. This is what eventually leads to Billy's development of some rather unnatural gifts, something hinted at early in the book, while Billy contemplates the world around him:
I saw fases in the warls and in the seelin. I saw bodys standin and warkin in the room at niyt. I her voyses wisperin. Now I start to think that mebbe it was me as I am now wisperin to me as I was then. Mebbe it was me and you my readers who look upon the seens with me. Who can bluddy no? Ther were kids like me but not like me. There were grown ups like my mam and ad but not like my mam and dad. Sumtyms it was like they were insyd myself or that they had steppd out from insyd myself into the room.
The narrative is as beautiful as it is unsettling, and although I found myself sometimes frustrated with the language and the feeling of not knowing all the answers, the story itself carries readers through a horrific landscape filled with people of questionable moral standing. There is humour to be found in Billy's innocence, but also fear for his treatment by those in positions of power. Wilfred, Billy's father, is a frightening character, while Mr. McCaufrey is a breath of fresh air amidst all the other dubious villagers. 

Characterization is the key to this book, and those looking for a fast pace or an epic adventure will likely be disappointed. Those who look for an imaginative examination of humanity, desire, death, and innocence, will find this book to be, if not entirely satisfying, at least an original voice in many respects.

Recommended for Savvy and Perceptive Readers


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