The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

The older books were bound in calfskin and leather, and some of them contained knowledge that had long been forgotten, or that was found to be incorrect as science and the process of discovery uncovered new truths. The books that held this old knowledge had never come to terms with this relegation of their worth.

"Once upon a time—for that is how all stories should begin—"John Connolly begins a tale about books and fairy tales and the world of the imagination that grips you and doesn't let go until the end. David is a young boy in London, and after his mother dies and his father remarries, he grows more and more distant and buries himself in books. But gradually, the boundaries between his world and the world of fairy tales begin to dissolve. He can hear the books whispering to him, he has visions of a Crooked Man, he hears the voice of his mother calling to him from across the divide.

The story has echoes of movies like "The Neverending Story" or "Labyrinth," where a child enters a realm of make-believe and does battle with monsters of all sorts, most notably fighting the demons inside themselves, and then re-emerges, changed for the better. It also reminded me of the more-recent "Pan's Labyrinth," partly because it's also set during World War II, but also for the terrors contained in David's storybook world. These are definitely not the Disney versions of fairy tales that you grew up with; nor are they Grimm's originals. They are something more sinister, with our modern fears and sins mixed in, and some of them are extremely creepy.

It's no real spoiler to tell you that David survives, but all other characters are fair game: you never know who's going to fall prey to wolves and trolls and sorceresses in towers. David is on a quest to seek the king, who is said to have The Book of Lost Things, in which perhaps he will find something to help him get back home.

The writing is superb, although I found that some of my favorite passages were from the beginning of the book, before David enters the other world. It is here that things seem most dissonant, and there's a tension as we try to figure out what's real and what isn't: does David really hear the books speaking to him? Is there really a Crooked Man skulking around in the house? But once we enter the other world, the rules have all changed. Wolves that speak, trees that bleed, Communist dwarves—they're all less startling than the ivy creeping into David's bedroom in the real world, because in this dream world anything seems possible.

Still, this is not to say that I didn't enjoy the rest of the book, for I definitely did. I'm almost certain this will take a spot in my favorites list at the end of this year. If I happen to find ten more books that are all better than this one, it will be a good year for reading indeed. If you're a fan of books about reading, Neil Gaiman, and fairy tales, give this one a go.

Fed to jonathan's brain | April 23, 2008 | Comments (0)


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