Mind the Rhinos
I believe six impossible things before breakfast.
There is no year stated. Cora Larsson is stepping down as mayor of Hennington to spend more time with her husband, Albert, who had just finished having sex with a man in a bush when she met him for the first time on a nudist beach. As she plans her resignation, a dejected admirer is making his way to the city in an effort to seek revenge for his broken heart, and by doing so, brings a whole lot of trouble with him. As the front cover of the novel reads: Welcome to Hennington. Mind the Rhinos.
The Crash of Hennington tells the story of fourteen characters, all furiously intertwined, who are trying to work towards ‘the good life’. These people try all sorts of things to give meaning to life—sex, drugs, politics, money, pimping, prostitution, religion. The combinations and deviations of all these facets give Patrick Ness’ Hennington a surreal feeling to it. Situated between our world and another, where Bondulay replaces Christianity, people are categorized as Rumour and non-Rumour, and the fall of Pistolet a major mark in history, what Hennington is not is your average city in Kentucky.
Coming up with a way to describe The Crash of Hennington is a rather tricky affair. One way could be to label it Messianic, as the plot moves along the lines of Armageddon, resurrection, and restoration. Patrick Ness serves us the equivalent of fire and brimstone in the city of Hennington, with a herd of wild rhinoceros thrown into the equation for good measure. In his book, he follows the traditional rules of cause and effect with the evil dying brutal deaths while the honourable remain martyrs for love. Those in favour of such themes may find Ness’ book apocalyptic.
Another message that emanates from the book would be that of the ideas of fate and destiny. The Crash of Hennington seems to preach that the whole world will conspire to help you fulfil your life purpose whether you like it or not. This destiny may not be known to you, and could involve pain, and in some cases, death, but when a person is at the place he or she was meant to be, something special happens . . . well, at least in Hennington it does. The dead give off buzzing sounds, strangers appear like angels to care for you, and the world stops to allow you to speak.
However, it would be safer to say that The Crash of Hennington is more likely a story about the emptiness of power without love. It sounds cliché, and though there have been many bad books attempting to explore the same theme, Ness triumphs by playing both hands. On one side, he shows the result of power with love, and the other, power without. All sides are written with extremely original overtones, which really does put things in different perspectives.
With fourteen characters running different stories that overlap with each other, The Crash of Hennington could have been a messy novel. Not only do such stories run into problems of clarity, they also face the difficulty of being cohesive. Ness avoids this by using the chapter as a tool to separate each story, and thereby, making it able for him to give award character with their own distinctive voice. But it is the different kinds of love that exist between people that brings The Crash of Hennington together, both literally and figuratively. The notions of romantic and familial love are universal, and it is through this that Ness shows how people’s emotions are really causes for action. The truth that there exist differences in preference and degree does not eliminate the fact that actions result in reactions—anger, guilt, jealousy, responsibility, admiration, desire. All these are active elements that contribute to a specific ending.
For a novel that reads like a satirical modern day soap opera veering on the edge of science fiction, The Crash of Hennington is in a genre of its own. The book is filled with plots that are too bizarre to be believable, and yet, the situations that occur have a smidgen of reality in them. It is this mix of ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ that results in the reader’s inability to put the book down while rolling her eyes and laughing at the sheer weirdness of it all.