In one of Da Vinci's notebooks is this note: "The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it."
The creature came to be associated with purity, and, so, with healing, and it was highly sought after, by poets and dreamers and scientists and rulers alike. This was not some flight-of-fancy: people believed in unicorns.
Readers looking for a unicorn story in Monoceros will be disappointed, but these ideas permeate the novel: raw passion, purity, the need to heal, the hunt, conviction and faith.
It's also possible to see the faintest echo of the famous Hunt tapestry in the opening pages of the novel, in which readers are introduced to reasons why Patrick Furey killed himself on a Monday.
Patrick forgot his ferocity and fearlessly laid his head in the lap of a boy that he loved. And it ended badly.
Readers only glimpse Patrick for a few pages, but it's enough to pull him close.
And the layered perspectives which follow (from that boy who did love Patrick back -- but not fearlessly, from Patrick's mother, from other students and also staff at the high school, among others) build the reader's understanding of this seventeen-year-old boy.
And, even though he is not Patrick for many of these people -- for many of them he is simply "the dead boy" -- his death has a far-reaching effect.
Monoceros charts this without crossing into empty sentimentalism, and the novel manages to explore the variety of responses (some more immediately sympathetic than others) to the young boy's death with compassion, without overlooking the inherent tragedy of his belief that what he could not tame made him unworthy, his life un-live-able.
(Please read my full response to this work on Buried In Print.)