Seth walks into a cold ocean on a cold day, a day not meant for swimming. A day meant for drowning…which is what he does.
He wakes up a continent away, in a place empty and dusty and oddly familiar. Alone in a dead world…
Ness takes the old what-is-reality concept and spins it in an interesting direction. For a quarter of the book, Seth has no idea where he is, or even if the world is real. No idea what he’s doing there.
Even when he meets other characters and we discover what’s going on, the question lingers at the back of his mind and ours as to how real this place is.
Ness constantly pushes on the fourth wall, exploiting our expectations of storytelling. Characters turn up just when necessary to distract Seth from what he’s doing. He finds food, water and clothing, commenting how convenient they are. The villain turns up just when Seth expects it to. It’s a nice metaphysical touch. Seth is constantly saying, "If this was a story then…" and it promptly happens.
Ness doesn’t suggest any solution whether the world Seth finds himself is limbo or reality (or even if it’s one Seth created). If we accept what we have, what’s the difference, after all? We can only take the input of our mind and process it through our perceptions.
There are stylistic things here which mark this as a Ness book – The pacing is terrific, pulling you through the book without a pause, there’s stream of consciousness narration and characters who break off giving away plot points and don’t return to them despite enough opportunities to do so. One complaint: Far too many adverbs in dialogue attributions, too much telling and not showing.
I would rate him down for the tricks he uses to keep me reading, but like the best magicians, it’s so subtle you don’t realise the misdirection until much later, when the applause is starting. And by then you don’t care.
The most satisfying thing: I wanted to know what happened after The End…but then that’s the whole point of the story: Is there More Than This?