Renee Reviews: John Connelly's - "The Book of Lost Things"

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Despite having never heard of this title prior to a single recommendation from a trusted book reviewer, I quickly became eager to pick up The Book of Lost Things the moment I heard of its fairy tale elements. Said element proved to be very much present and accounted for, but ultimately it supported an even more engaging and original tale of loss, mourning and coming-of-age.

Known predominantly for his crime fiction, John Connelly effectively created his own fairy tale narrative within this novel and inserted it with a very realistic and very tangible amount of violence, brutality, cynicism and bittersweet truth. While this may deter some readers, and certainly had me feeling incredibly uncomfortable and emotionally drained much of the time, it was ultimately a very effective means of conveying the stark nature and often indirect moral compass of the original fairy tale/folk lore format.

Our twelve year-old protagonist, David, was really put through his paces in this novel; the poor boy had to deal with taunting visions of his dead mother, sudden and unexplained fainting fits that left him bleeding and incoherent, several gruesome and unnerving encounters with a number of truly despicable beings, and the constant threat posed by the Crooked Man (who remains one of the most unforgiving villains I have ever encountered.) David handles all of his challenges with a mix of bravery, recklessness and fear that was very telling and true of his age and upbringing. Additionally, Connelly’s decision to place the fantasy action alongside the ‘real world’ setting of war-time London was also a wise move, with much of David’s home-grown fear of German invasion and destruction feeding into his imaginings.

Although there are not many ‘light’ moments within the novel, and they appear fleetingly, it is important to note the two elements that really made this work enjoyable for me: the twists on known fairy tales, and the sheer love and affection conveyed for the written word and the act of reading. David’s avid love and almost palpable connection to books is evident from the first page, and the sensation this creates forms an active metaphor for the transformative experience of reading, especially at a young age. Also, the inclusion of Connelly’s own retellings of known tales such Snow White are both amusing and unsettling.

While both the US and UK covers for this novel might suggest a middle-grade audience, I would certainly not be recommending it to readers under the age of 15, due to the mature and violent content. However, I do sincerely believe that older readers will find something truly engaging and memorable in David’s fantastical and harrowing journey.

The Book of Lost Things – John Connelly

Atria Books

ISBN – 0743298853

339 pages

November 7th 2006

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