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About the book
The Book of Lost Things is a stand-alone novel by John Connolly. It was published in 2007 by Hodder and Stoughton and it is 512 pages long.
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.
What I thought
Randomly picked as the first book to use as research for my dissertation, I had no idea what I was about to read with The Book of Lost Things. My sister had previously read it though and assured me that I would like it regardless of it being research.
All good things come to those who wait...
The story starts off quite slow, building up a background of child protagonist David and the life that he leads. With his mother being ill, close to dying, and the country at war, David is having a very hard time of things. He loves his mother very much and although he knows that she will die, he does everything he possibly can from stopping this from happening. However, when his mother does eventually die, David is distraught and unsure about how to go on with life with results in strange black outs. It isn't long before David's father meets someone else and with a new baby on the way, David and his father move in with Rose.
This is the point where the story really gets going. David has always loved stories, as they were something that he shared with his mother and his new bedroom is filled with books. Along with David's strange black-outs, he can also hear the books talk to him. In his dreams he sees a Crooked Man, scary and strange. With his father always away at work, David is stuck in a house with a little step-brother he doesn't like and a step-mother he likes even less. When David is sent to his room one night, he escapes into the sunken garden and manages to move into a different world.
Although the beginning of the story is really slow, I liked how it built up to something bigger and a lot more exciting. This build up also helped to understand David completely. While he is only 12 years old, David has a strong personality and is very sure of himself and what he believes in. The beginning of the book sets David up as a character that you want to cheer on, even though you don't know what is going to happen to him yet. His life has been hard in such a short amount of time and I personally wanted something good to happen to and for him.
It doesn't take long for the other world to come to life completely. Upon entering this other world, David is left standing in some strange woods and he knows he could be in danger. The wolves descend and David is saved by The Woodsman. This is where fairy tales come into this story. As The Woodsman explains how this strange world works, he adds in some tales about things that have passed. Although this book is not a fairy tale retelling, John Connolly adds in some specific fairy tales in order to enhance his own tale.
On David's journey he encounters a great many strange characters which include Snow White and the seven dwarves and Rumpelstiltskin as well as hearing tales about others like Little Red Riding Hood. These fairy tale characters alter and change David's journey in some way or another and in very different ways. Even though David doesn't actually meet them all, and only hears of some of them in stories, their actions effect what David thinks and does. Connolly works in these fairy tales while still changing some aspects from the originals and this is something that I loved and why this could be classed as a retelling in some ways. Even though some aspects are changed, the feeling of the fairy tales stays true to their originals. The stories are gruesome and dramatic and also don't have the kind of happy endings that we are used to nowadays. I respected Connolly very much for staying true to how fairy tales were originally written.
The world that Connolly created for David to be in was fabulous and extremely interesting. At each different milestone, I could never tell what would happen next to David or what danger he might come across. The Book of Lost Things has a great many twists and turns as well as secrets. Also, as a great many fairy tales are used in this book, I could never be sure which were going to crop up and what kinds of characters David would meet. For me, this is one of the most interesting things about this book but maybe because I have such a strong interesting in it in general. Connolly's writing is magical, which represents the world he has created well. Everything about his writing has an air of fantasy and mystery about it which fits in with the theme of the story.
Back to reality...
While this book does have strong themes from past fairy tales, there is also something very real in it as well. As explained in the notes at the back of the book, Connolly took his own feelings of loss and put them into this story. Although not a biographical story, it does have truthful aspects to it and this helped to make characters very real, even if they were something from lore and legend. David and his family especially were interesting because of the time that they lived in. During a time as hard as war, David doesn't really realise that his problems are only small in comparison to other things that are happening in the world. I loved the fact that David was a 12 year old boy through and through and this never really changed. Along his journey in the other world, his experiences do change his perception of the world but it never changes his personality. David does grow during the story because of these events and in turn, character development is strong.
In the end...
Overall, I really did love this book. Far from being a fairy tale for children, this book is scary, intense and full of all the magical things that I love about books. Connolly is an exceptionally talented writer and pours life into his characters. I am so happy this was my first book for research as it has given me a whole lot to think about.
I have been a fan of John Connolly ever since I borrowed Bad Men in 2004. Since then, I have worked my way through his Charlie Parker supernatural crime thriller series as well as his other stand alone novels. The main thing I noticed about The Book of Lost Things is just how understated and different it is to his usual work, while still retaining his familiar style and writing ability.
David is a young boy of 12 or 13. Growing up as World War I is starting is not easy, but when his beloved mother dies and his father starts seeing Rose, it becomes harder. He then resents Georgie, his half brother, when he is born, and wishes things were different. As he starts to hear the books he enjoys reading talking to him in hushed whispers, his dreams become more and more vivid until a desperate escape from a crashing plane thrusts him into a fantasy world, where the King rules from a distance, all manner of creatures are in existence, and the Crooked Man threatens to be the deadliest foe. Can David find the King who is rumoured to be able to return him back to his own world?
There is a lot going on here, and Connolly is to be commended for it. The entire book is one big melee of fairy tales told through his eyes and with his own dark and twisted take on them. They range from a seductive Red Riding Hood to an obese and obnoxious Snow White; the Crooked Man bears resemblance to Rumpelstitskin while Sleeping Beauty also gets a chapter or two. Connolly divides the book into chapters, each with a title that indicates what it will likely contain.
As the tale progresses and David finds himself encountering various people that will both help and hinder him along the way, I found that I was thinking and looking for meanings behind the actual words, whether there was anything symbolic about the events taking place and what it all represented. Connoly's work has always had a toe in the fantasy world and I think this lends a difference to his work that other crime thriller authors don't have. Here, although the tale is a bunch of fairy tales thrown alongside one boy's quest to return home, everything is much gentler. There is no murder mystery, and all the gruesome content stops short of being gory and could therefore appeal very well to a young adult audience.
It's not the longest of books. I have the small hardbook version which has 310 pages, and the text isn't the largest. It's an enjoyable read with plenty of places to be able to stop at, although you may find this hard to do. I certainly did. I thought the characters and they way they were introduced and (on occasion) removed from the plot was expertly done, and I found the whole symbolic nature very interesting and thought provoking indeed. This book has served to increase my appreciation level of Connolly's work, showing another string to his bow. It's a far cry from Charlie Parker in many ways, but you can see the darkness as he descends into the more sinister of passages. Recommended.
I wasn't initially convinced by 'The Book of Lost Things'. An adult fairytale? Yes, possibly, if kept fairly short and written by someone like Angela Carter. But 502 pages of adult fairytale? At least it wasn't recommended by Richard and Judy, which most of the books I read for my book group seem to be, and which I generally regard as the kiss of death. (I don't think this is a snobbish reaction, it's just that they recommended Jodi Picoult - great on issues, terrible at decent storytelling - and Mark Mills - terrible at storytelling and, um...) Anyway, the Independent apparently thought it was 'magical' and the Times had made it part of their book group. How could it go wrong?
-- Once upon a time - for that is how all stories should begin - there was a boy who lost his mother... --
David has lost his mother to cancer, despite his best efforts to prevent it. He feels guilty and alone. He is living in an attic bedroom and his dad has found a new girlfriend, rather quickly. In short, life is not playing fair. In life, his mother loved books and David has inherited this love. His mother once told him that stories were alive and this seems to be true in more than one sense, as they begin talking to David.
-- That was when the trouble started. --
Connolly likes a dramatic flourish. At the end of the first chapter the reader is informed that 'bad things came' and a 'Crooked Man began appearing to David'. In the second, we learn that the arrival of his father's new girlfriend appears to cause another problem: 'the attacks began'. While I often find overly dramatic storytelling irritating, it seems appropriate in a story of this ilk and I did not mind it. I felt that the dramatic flourishes added a sense of childlike excitement as everything seemed somehow bigger than reality.
It is clear to the reader that David is struggling to cope with the changes in his life and he becomes a sympathetic figure quickly, despite the rather anonymous opening paragraphs which describe him as 'the boy'. David's father can also see this and, rather than talk to his son, his answer is to visit a psychiatrist. I found this scene quite amusing as David cannot understand the fellow's seemingly daft questions and requests. I thought that the ability to view the world through David's eyes was a real strength of Connolly's and I quickly adapted to David's point of view. This is important as, gradually, David becomes absorbed by the strange books in his new room until eventually he crosses into a strange and troubled land full of familiar and unfamiliar folk. I was able to accept this move into fantasy as I felt empathy for David's situation and cared about him as a character.
-- Men who Dwell by Railway Tracks --
In the fantasy world David meets a range of figures and his interactions with them form the heart of the novel. Connolly takes well known (and sometimes perhaps less well known) fairytales figures and integrates them into a sophisticated coming of age story. I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel, especially since there was often a twist involved. For instance, do you know why the dwarves really work for Snow White? Or that these diligent miners are actually communists seeking to fight oppression? I particularly enjoyed the humour in Connolly's retelling of these old tales as the tale he weaves is full of darkness.
Connolly is definitely not afraid of the darker side of life, in the 'real' world and the fairytale world David slips into. A heavy sense of threat deepens as David struggles to achieve his goal. I felt that the novel was saved from gloom by its own nature - a fairytale is, however powerful, still a story - and by the interest engendered through the adaptation of the original tales. There is plenty of death and several dashes of heroism which help to keep up interest in the story. Ultimately, life in the fantasy world is nasty, brutish and short. However, although events are often gruesome they are never gory, which I appreciated as I have a very delicate stomach!
-- Of the fortress of thorns --
Another fairytale / children's story aspect of the novel is that the chapters are titled and hint, albeit obscurely, at what is to come. Again, this is normally a feature that irritates me (I like narrative surprises) but, again, in the context of this self-proclaimed fairytale, they seemed appropriate. Later in the novel I sometimes used them to guess what fairytale was coming up next and so overall I thought they were worthwhile to add a little bit of interest while reading.
The ultimate narrative arc is somewhat predictable - it is, after all, a fairy story - but the details are well plotted and the plot is quite imaginative. It was never a dull read, although I never found it compelling either and was perfectly able to leave the book aside for periods of several days. The ending was intriguing and I wondered whether it was meant to have a religious significance. However, I was rather startled by the ending because, despite me feeling like the story was racing to a conclusion, there were 150 pages left...
-- The Book of Poor Referencing --
The 150 pages seek to explain what has gone before. There is a relatively interesting interview with the author in which he elaborates on his intentions and ponders the deeper significance of his text. This accounts for a few pages and the rest is 'notes' on the book. Each note considers the origins of each tale used, then considers how the writer has used them in this book to develop David's story, then gives an account of the original fairytale. I had several objections to this appendix.
Firstly, it seems a little bit pretentious to me, writing many pages to justify your choices in your own novel. Surely the intentions were either clear and successful or unclear and a failure. Writing your own York notes just seems a bit up-your-own-bottom. That said, I can appreciate that some readers would find these notes interesting. In fact, I did read them and found some of them interesting myself, especially since when reading for pleasure instead of work I tend to ignore symbolism and therefore didn't mind it being pointed out for me. (Of course, a more attentive reader might find these explanatory notes rather insulting...)
However, Connolly, or perhaps, more accurately, his editor or publisher, does not seek to help the interested reader at all. There is no attempt to match the stories to the relevant chapters and no index page, so when I genuinely wanted to find out more about a tale, I had to search through the whole lot. I didn't find the organisation helpful and found it a little bit frustrating.
Finally, I would question the necessity of reproducing each tale in full, especially in this era of easily accessible broadband. In fact, before I realised that the final third of the 'novel' was actually a set of student notes, I had already googled a couple of the unfamiliar tales. Even after I knew the notes were in the book I preferred to explore the tales I was interested in on the web where I could chase links about until I had exhausted my curiosity. Of course, it is true that not everyone has the same easy access to the internet, but this brings me back to my previous point: why isn't the material more helpfully organised?
The whole package feels like an ill thought through bolt on. Did someone suggest that 503 pages looked better than 348? It's a cynical thought but one that has recurred to me.
-- Of All That Was Lost And All That Was Found --
The story ends suitably for a fairytale and is an interesting enough read. It is easy to read without being gripping or dull. The central character is sympathetic and I found it easy to empathise with him despite his extraordinary circumstances. Although I found the premise, and often the execution, of this novel interesting, I don't imagine I will ever reread it, or anything else by the same author. I imagine it is worth a read for those who are interested in seeing how the writer adapts these traditional tales, but I'd borrow it rather than buying it. The storytelling was imaginative but it didn't set fire to my imagination.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly was recommended by my sister. I have read other John Connolly books, but this book was a complete departure from the other books of his I've read - and to be honest, I wouldn't have recognised his writing style at all!
The Book of Lost Things is written in the style of an adult fairytale - although its written in a way that would be suitable for teenagers as well as adults. At the beginning of the book, because of the writing style seeming very simplistic, I wasn't sure that I was going to like it, but I persevered - and I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed its uniqueness.
The story follows a 12 year old called David who is growing up during World War 2. Davids' life is undergoing a period of change whereby his mother has died, his father has remarried and had a new baby - and David is having a lot of difficulty adjusting. He retreats to the world of books, where he can escape into worlds that feel more familiar and comforting to him. And then, one day, when following the sound of his deceased mothers voice, he enters a hole in the garden - and finds himself in an entirely new world altogether. David embarks on a journey of discovery and of self-exploration and personal growth. During this journey, David encounters many characters which are reminiscent of familiar fairytale characters - as is the journey itself reminscent of the fairytales which many of us were familiar with in childhood.
Ultimately, this book is an adult fairytale...but it is very dark and violent at times - and there were elements of the book that I found quite disturbing. I believe this was deliberate by John Connolly because if you think about the fairytales we tell our children, many of them are actually quite disturbing in themselves (think Little Red Riding Hoods' granny being eaten by the wolf; or Snow White being poisoned by her step-mother etc!). The main character, beside David, in the book is "The Crooked Man" who is similar to Rumplestilskin and his evilness really shines through. The battle of wills between David and The Crooked Man form the basis to the book - and it is ultimately the consequences of their relationship which results in the changes in maturity realised in David throughout the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found myself compelled to carry on reading. I would recommend it for anyone who likes fantasy and escapism. It's a really good read!
I was a little bit sceptical of John Connolly's foray into fairytale-type writing, since I've read his crime novels and wasn't sure if he'd be able to make such a significant switch of genre. I needn't have worried, though.
The Book of Lost Things is set in 1939, in wartime England. David, the child protagonist, loses his mother to a terminal illness and while he is still learning to deal with her loss, his father remarries and the two go to live in his new stepmother, Rose's, large house outside of London. David's father believes they'll be safer there, away from the Blitz, but after David's new small stepbrother is born David begins experiencing strange things in the house, including seeing a crooked man in the shadows.
One night, David goes outside to follow the man, and ends up throwing himself through a gap in the wall to escape ... well, a larger threat, I won't spoil it. The wall conceals not a hidden garden but another world, one where everything is not quite as it seems but the danger is real. In order to escape and return home, David must journey to the King and ask him what to do. On the way David meets various characters that we know - or at least we think we know - from our own fairytales, although these versions are twisted into something new and altogether darker. He finds an ally in a Woodsman, but has another, unexpected ally keeping him safe from the shadows...
At the climax of the book, the reason for this secret ally's interest becomes clear, and David faces a choice: to give away something he does not value in order to receive everything he wants. But remember: in this world, nothing is exactly as it seems.
This is a truly excellent book, beautifully written and spellbinding. I've bought and given away at least fifteen copies of it because it is the perfect gift for anyone who loves to read.
David is a child in suffering.... suffering from an OCD that he believes will save his dying Mother, then suffering from the the drawn out death of his Mother and the feeling that he has in some way caused it. Davids pain and suffering leads his life to take an extraordinary twist.... dragging him headfirst into the surreal world of the books that he so loves... with riviting consequences.
I absolutely adored this book.... it gripped me from the first pages to the last.... made me laugh out loud and made my actually cry.... made my stomach turn and my skin crawl whilst being totally amusing and dragging me back to the books of my childhood. It has everything that any reader could want and i strongly advise any reader to BUY THIS BOOK! No matter what your tastes or usual reading - i can assure you... you wont be disappointed!
People say don't judge a book by its cover, but that's what I did with The Book of Lost Things and it worked out pretty well! I like reading anything fairytale esq, especially fairytales for adults. That's what this book is and I think the cover expresses that well. It's the first book I read by John Connolly, apparently he usually writes crime novels and although I've not read any of them, I would guess that this is pretty different.
David is a 12 year old boy growing up in world war 2. He admittedly loves his mother best, especially as his dad is away for work with a very important war related job. His mother dies right at the start of the book and David's father marries one of her nurses a very short while afterwards, and he soon finds himself in a new house he doesn't like with a new little brother he likes even less. He starts to experience black outs when he is particularly upset and his new life gets more and more stressful.
One day David sees a mysterious crooked man in his bedroom, although there is no evidence of him when he goes to look. He also starts to hear his mothers voice, telling him he's not actually dead. One night after a bad argument with his step mum he goes into the garden to try and follow his mothers voice. At this time a world war 2 bomber crashes in his garden, and his only way to escape it is to climb into his garden wall. When he does he finds himself coming through to a completely different world. He is in a strange a dangerous forest and luckily meets the woodsman, who takes him to safety.
David is attacked by wolves and loups, wolves that have started to turn human and due to the lack of food in the forest want to eat David. As David is unable to return to his own world through the wall the woodsman suggests he tries to find the king as he has his book of lost things, which should be able to take him back. So David sets off on a rather perilous journey. David meets various fairytale creatures such as trolls, harpies, knights and monsters. A lot of the stories of his adventure are versions of fairytales we know, there is a wonderful version of snow white in there who the dwarfs want to petition to stop working for as her demands are too demanding. David also meets a hunter who wants to swap his head with a fox's, her hobby is to combine the bodies of animals and children to make a more interesting hunt.
He is followed throughout this land by the crooked man, his most dangerous enemy who has sinister plans for David and his future.
This book is a fairytale, but definitely not one for children. The book is quite disturbing at times and really goes into what it means for David to set off on his own journey and becomes part of the adult world. The crooked man presents him with thoughts and feelings the children shouldn't have to face and David has to deal with this the best a young boy can. I really like that about this book, it's not just a simple story but it has a lot of complicated themes and underlying ideas. David at first is placed in a home life he doesn't like and can do nothing about. He wants to leave and he gets what he wished for, but is faced with an even worse world than he was in before.
Connollys take on fairytales are also great. He also gives his thoughts on each story he borrows from in the back 'of the book and a copy of the original. Like I said, I particularly liked his take on snow white but there is also stories from red riding hood, rumpelstiltskin, Greek mythology and a story based on a poem. And again, they are told in a way which is more suited to adults, and I am sure they have more of what they originated as about them. Something scary and unsettling and they make you slightly uncomfortable reading them. Like the originals the endings aren't happy, or certainly not for everything. Nothing in this book goes smoothly, David just has to do his best. The ending of the book isn't happy either, but it's real. I suppose that is where this differs from the fairytales we're used to, there isn't the unrealistic happy ending, but I wouldn't say that this is based on these kinds of stories, more the brother Grimm type stories, those that have a bit of an edge on them.
I think this is a wonderful fantasy novel, to me it's the idea of what a fantasy book for adults ought to be. It's a real page turner and really interesting to read. I'm kind of disappointed that this is a break from the norm for what Connolly writes, because I would want to real much more of this kind of thing! Luckily there are some recommended authors in the back who have also written there own takes one fairytales, one of which I've given ago and really liked. Give this book ago if you want to read something a bit out of the ordinary and if you like to read fantasy books, this is a particularly good one.
When David's mother dies, David is convinced it is his fault: if he had only been better, more disciplined, more dedicated, he is sure he could have prevented her from dying. As it is, David is left alone with his Father, and then, when his Father remarries, he is forced to endure a step mother and a new baby brother as well. Preoccupied with the war, David Father no longer has time for him, and he retreats more often to his bedroom, with nothing but his books for company. What his father and step-mother don't know, however, is that David's books can talk - and the more they whisper to David the closer he gets to being sucked into their fairy tale world... The question is - how far will David go to be rid of his hated new family and his neglectful father?
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time - I just couldn't put it down. Anyone who is fond of Angela Carter or Jeanette Winterson, or even Phillip Pullman or the Inkheart/Inkspell/Inkdeath books, is sure to love this story. Despite the main character being a child, this is definitely not a children's book: it is a book about a child who is struggling with a host of adult emotions and problems, and the book uses fairytales in this traditionally grown-up way - as a means of exploring the psychological traumas inherent in living in a difficult and dangerous world. I was particularily impressed by the way in which Connolly plays on the ambiguity inherent in the fairytale situation - there is the suggestion that David suffers from both epilepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder due to the psychological damage inflicted upon him by the circumstances in which he is brought up, but there is also the clear possibility that what happens to David is real, and that the magic is out there waiting for those who stray too far from the accepted path in life.
The tales are not the sugary adaptations one gets used to as a child - they are closer in form to the brutal oral stories most folk and fairytales started off as. Some of the adaptations are humourous - the seven dwarves' relationship to Snow White is rewritten as a sketch worthy of Terry Pratchett - but some of them are spine-tingling - the huntress who melds the heads of children to the bodies of animals in order to create a more interesting prey to hunt is a figure who will stalk your nightmares for many months - and some are simply heart-rending - such as the ghost of the little girl trapped in a jam jar and hidden away in the dungeons.
The writing is also masterly - Connolly is an artist and he paints with words. The book is very well researched, and combines an extensive knowledge of world folklore and fairy tales, with a feel for historical fiction and contemporary storytelling. This a technically superb piece of writing and an absolutely riveting story. Finally, there is a wonderful website to accompany the book, with a heap of extras - desktop wallpapers and screensavers, authors interviews, questions and answers, short stories, and more.
The only flaw with this excellent book is that it did not have a sufficiently widespread marketing campaign to make it better known than it is.
Set in 1939 during the war, The Book of Lost things is a tale about a boy called David who has lost his mother through a terminal illness. He now lives with his father and his new stepmother Rose, as well as his new half brother Georgie. David finds it hard to adjust to his new life in Rose's big old house, he resists all attempts by Rose to befriend him and he resents the intrusion of his new half brother and Rose on his fathers time.
The only good thing that David can see about his situation is the old house holds interesting secrets for him. David's new room is filled with old books that appear to whisper to him, and having a great passion for books, David is fascinated by the tales on the shelves but also terrified as he begins to see The Crooked Man stepping out of the stories and into his own life.
One night, David hears his mothers voice calling to him to help, and as he runs across the lawn at the sound of his mother voice, a German bomber is also heading into his path. During this apparent collision, David is catapulted into another world, a world in which the tales of which he has read about seem to have come alive! The Crooked Man has come and taken him to the other world...!
This is probably one of the strangest books I have ever read. It is not particularly a genre that I am interesting in reading but for some reason this book appealed to me. It encompasses a lot of genres from fairytale, fable to fantasy and just downright scary horror!
It does take a while to get in to, and at one point I was on the verge of giving it up. I found that the scene setting of Davids home life not interesting and could have been a bit more concise, but equally I found the jump between the "real world" and the fairytale world a hard one to adjust to and it took me several chapters to pick up the pace again of where David had landed in this new world.
However, once I had got in to it, I was hooked and I felt that I had been transported back to some of the books I had read as a child which had some weird and wonderful characters that both scared and fascinated me. The books that sprang to mind when reading this were The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magic Faraway Tree (my all time favourite childhood books) and to some extent, The Wizard of Oz (well, he is trying to find his way home afterall!). Most of all, I was reminded of the fairytales and stories I was told by my grandparents which conjured up all sorts of good and bad characters in my mind.
Along the way, David meets some interesting characters which will both help and hinder him on his journey to find the King and "The Book of Lost Things" which he has been told will return him to his homeland.
Obviously, David is the main character In the story. I felt that this character was particularly well drawn and developed during the latter part of the book but I found myself struggling with his character during the initial chapters. At the beginning of the book, David comes across as quite a young boy, desperately sad at the loss of his mother but also selfish and silly (as young boys can be!) as a result, I was frustrated at the way he treated his stepmother. However, the nature of the story means that David is on a journey of self discovery, and I thought that the author cleverly matured David as he overcame his fears, stood on his own two feet and thought for himself when he was left on his own in the strange land. It might have been mentioned in the book, but I only realised when reading about it afterwards that David is supposed to be a 12 year old boy. What is interesting to me is that in the early stages, he seems much younger in his childish ways, but by half way through the book, I felt like the main character was much older than he was, and although there were some points where I felt this was almost unbelievable for a young boy to be acting and reacting in these quite mature ways, generally speaking I felt that David just adapted to his situation and the character development was well written to fit perfectly with this as a coming of age tale.
The Crooked Man...
As I have mentioned, there are many weird and wonderful creatures in this fairytale (or rather, nightmarish) land. There are wolves that have human qualities, trolls, harpies, monsters, knights, woodsmen and soldiers. However, aside from David, The Crooked Man has a huge central role in this story.
The Crooked Man appears in David's world and he instantly knows, as a child does, that this man is not a good person. The actual physical description of The Crooked Man was perfectly in keeping with the childhood baddie tradition in my opinion! He eerily follows David around when he arrives in the strange land and although the reader is always clear that his intentions are not good, the suspense is built enough to know that when we are told, it will be suitably awful!
At the back of the book, there is a question and answer session from the author where he explains his ideas and one of the big ideas and story development comes from his imaginings of The Crooked Man.
Not surprisingly, a lot of his ideas sprang from his own fears from childhood such as losing parents and other loved ones. He also touches on how real characters can seem to children as part of their very vivid imagination. David is in a land where fairytales, stories and fables are entwined and elements of stories he has heard are distorted to make often uglier versions in this new world.
The Crooked Man is the big "baddie" in this story and the author tells how his character was developed partly through the story of Rumplestiltskin; the dwarf who spins straw into gold but also demands the first born child of the poor millers daughter in return. The Crooked Man works on a similar principle in this story, and his wickedness towards children helps to create a terrifying element to David's journey. The Crooked Man also reminded me of the title character in "Mr Toppit"; a strange, fairytale character who seems menacing, magical and unreal.
The Story & Development...
Despite the story maintaining a childlike quality in it's make believe land with all its imaginative creatures, I was always reminded that this was a tale for grownups; nothing was spared from young David's eyes; he smelt the stench of rotten corpses, and saw the heads of those long dead. The horror side to this book is quite prominent in parts and often the stories were fairly gruesome, and it was in these sections that I felt that the story was more than an adult fairytale. However, even the frightening scenes were extremely well written fascinating in their morbid way and entertaining for both adults and perhaps young boys alike if they like that sort of thing!
I found that once I had got through the initial chapters of setting up David's predicament in the strange land, the book was extremely absorbing and well paced, I was never bored as David was always on a new adventure, solving a new riddle, helping out others or meeting new and strange creatures. It is impossible to read this book without feeling that it is overflowing with imagination, excitement and energy if nothing else!
David begins a quest to find the King and in doing so overcomes some emotional barriers as well as physical ones. The author states that this book is about childhood and becoming aware of reality and therefore it is not a book for children. I would say this is true, it certainly is a book in which David turns from boy to man and the journey he undertakes to realise that real life does hold pain and misery but it also has love and enjoyment.
Having said that, I think it fits perfectly with childrens fiction too. Like most children, they have a love-hate relationship with stories full of wicked creatures, they both love hearing about them but are also scared of them and I think children of a certain age would equally think the same of the story in this book. The Brothers Grimm are clearly a massive influence in this tale and that is an element that I particularly enjoyed. The book is dotted with fairytales/folk tales/fables that almost turn the original story on its head and I particularly liked reading these adaptations. To explain the existence of the strange human-wolf creatures that roam the forest, the Woodsman tells David a story that sounds similar to that of Little Red Riding Hood. I was particularly fascinated by these tales (also included, for instance, is a twisted version of Hansel and Gretel) as they turned my knowledge of the story on its head and gave it a new twist. For me, these sections probably gave me the greatest pleasure, they were imaginative, well written and just extremely enjoyable to read. Im sure some people would agree that modern adaptations, or looking at a story such as this in a different light is easily an enjoyable read.
I cannot fault this book in terms of originality. I've never read anything like it and I'm amazed to read that John Connolly, the Dublin-born author is more comfortable and better known around the crime fiction genre (albeit supernatural crime fiction!) I felt that he captured the spirit of a lonely imaginative boy perfectly; the whole book was vivid and completely memorable. I can only sum my thoughts up by nicking a quote from the many on the inside of the cover from Choice, one in which I agree wholeheartedly:
"A new interpretation of old fairy tales, it is imaginative and beautifully written."
While fairy tales and fables are the influence behind great swathes of modern fiction, there seems to be little recently published work which would be happy to be called such; in many ways, they seem to have gone out of fashion. In The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly both borrows heavily from the extensive realms of fairytaledom and attempts to create something closely related to a traditional fairy tale, fleshed out and expanded into novel form. All the classical elements are here, and many of the original characters - we have a quest for a castle and a king, fearsome beasts and sturdy allies and a liberal sprinkling of Snow Whites, Red Riding Hoods and creations of Brothers Grimm.
Our protagonist is a young boy named David, whom we join at the opening of the tale preparing himself for his mother's death. Not long after her passing, his father re-marries, and David moves to the country to live with him and his new wife. Soon a baby daughter is born to the couple, and David begins to feel lost in his own world, a diminishing presence in his home. So far, familiar ground - and here Connolly starts to weave the fairytale world into the narrative. Discovering a crack in the wall of the house's sunken garden, David finds himself first venturing into, and then trapped inside a land beyond that which he knows. The only way home would appear to be held by the elusive King of the land, who holds close to him the titular Book of Lost Things, and understands much of this world and the one David has come from. Of course, the castle is some way away and the road lined with danger and trodden by all manner of creatures, some kindly, some unpleasant and some much worse.
In one sense, this is the journey which the book narrates. This, though, hides a number of other layers which the author encourages us to explore. As much as David is pursuing his apparent quest, he is also on the brink of becoming a young man, and as such is setting out on a journey of growth and expanding awareness.
Alongside these aspects, another dominant theme of the novel is one which explores the female figure, especially as it is perceived by a twelve year-old boy. David has had a number of female role models in his life, from the mother he loved to the stepmother he resents and sees as having stolen from him much of what he held dear. We see his various conceptions of women represented in a number of fabled forms along the way, from the seduction and deceit of the Harpies and Red Riding Hood (whose story is somewhat different to the standard here) to the intimidating physical nature of the Huntress, right through to the lazy, self-centred glutton that Snow White has become. The book uses these various highly stylised, fantastical interpretations of the female form cleverly to represent the numerous facets of David's real-life fears.
This is a recurrent technique the book uses to explore David's juvenile mind. Constantly, we see the concerns that affect his disturbed mind realised through fantasy figures and played out on a fairy-tale stage, and we are given to understand that as he overcomes these obstacles, and moves closer to the culmination of his quest, so he moves nearer to a state of happiness, security and acceptance of the world he belongs to.
For David certainly is a disturbed child - the book is set amongst wartime Britain, and our protagonist's personal traumas (the loss of a mother, his alienation and apparent displacement in his family) are all compounded by the stresses and strains placed on any family coping with war. The book, for all its fairy-tale influences, is not an altogether pleasant one, full of frightful characters and actions and a consistently sinister tone. Arguably, this has always been a part of the traditional fairytale, but where Disney has gone some way to brushing off the nastiness and generally jollying up the tales, this is very much the uncut version - this isn't really a children's book, such is the content.
As a fairytale reworking, this works, broadly. There are some nice updatings and clever redrafts of what we have come to accept about some well-known characters, and the story has all the classic elements put together adeptly enough. However, the author goes for something more than that here, attempting to mix together fantasy and allegory with a more grounded, realistic story. This, though clever in theory and promising in concept, only sporadically works in The Book of Lost Things. It's hard to pin down why it doesn't quite come off, but the two sides of the story never really gel together as they should, and though some of the representations of reality in the fantasy world are apparent enough, it doesn't feel like the two have any impact on each other, providing an unsatisfying story. Additionally, the ending is disappointing, and spells out too strongly what could have more effectively been left to the reader's interpretation of what they've just read.
This is an interesting effort, and does provide some effective moments, but just falls short of working as a whole. Nonetheless, it's a laudable attempt, and there's plenty to admire within it - and you get a nice collection of original fairy tales as an appendix to the story, which is a neat touch and offers a chance to spot some of the influences behind the story that you may have missed. The Book of Lost Things is worth a read, even if it isn't quite what it wanted to be.
I've seen a pattern in the things I read; it's clear I'm hanging on to my inner child, and still can't get enough fairy tales. The Book of Lost Things, however, is defiantly a fairy tale for adults, and is probably the darkest one I have ever read.
Like a good many fairy tales, little David's story begins with a death, that of his mother, and the event of his new step mother moving into the house. Having used the books in his house to cope with the loss of his mother and coping with Rose, the step mother, David retreats into a world of fantasy, and this is exactly where he finds himself when he escapes a crashing German aeroplane in his back garden. In a time of turmoil at the beginning of the Second World War, David begins his own war against a cruel and unforgiving fantasy world that seems to have been formed out of all the worst parts of the books he has collected.
Among the characters we will see seven Communist dwarfs and a somewhat unusual version of Snow White, a merciless hunter with an unusual interest in science, the 'beast', a host of mythalogical character, and one of the most dreadful and stirring villains I have ever read about. You'll never look at a magpie in quite the same way again!
Incredibly human, heartfelt and in some places even a little gut wrenching, The Book of Lost Things tells the tale of a remarkable little boy as he makes the most terrifying journey of all, out of childhood and into the oblivion of the rest of his life, as the world around him seems to fall apart at the clutches of war.
I am honest when I say I cried at the end of this book (despite being on the bus at the time!) and when I passed it on to my mother she did the same. Although this was a book I judged by the cover and brought purely based on the book jacket (a plight of the illustrator) I am certainly glad I did as it was incredibly enjoyable and defiantly something I would read again, as well as one I told everyone I knew about! Bravo John Connolly!
Ok. Once again I have fallen completely in love with a book. I do this far too often, there are just so many excellent books out there for me to adore. This is just the latest in a long line of beloved books and rightfully so. The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly is an incredibly well written and imaginative book. Basically it is the story of a twelve year old boy who loses his mother, his father remarries and has a new baby and they all go to live in the step-mother's house. Books start to whisper to the boy and eventually he is drawn into a world of mixed up fairytales and a creature he calls The Crooked man.
The Crooked Man was a wonderful creation and one of my favourite parts of the book; just foul enough and cruel enough to make you shudder. He is the kind of being you image when the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Pure genius was put into his creation.
And the whole world that John Connolly creates where fairytales are real but twisted is another wonderul creation; Snow White is a pain in the arse for example, and Red Riding Hood doesn't end in quite the same way. More adult versions of fairytales are always something I find enjoyable and this was one of the best I have read.
Overall this book was wonderful story of growing up and I will read it many times again. The writing was fast paced and kept you interested but never seemed to be skipping over anything too quickly. And I will now forever be creeped out by Crooked people because of the gloriously creepy creation of The Crooked Man.
Okay, I'll keep this review short & sweet in order not to bore you with an essay!
If, as a child you always wanted to escape to a fairytale world after immersing yourself in books and fairy stories you will love this book. John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things is a dark fairytale for adults that shows the transition from child to adult with themes of loss and pain.. and as the story reveals within its pages, with every fairytale fantasy is a nightmare..
Set in London at the time of World War Two, The Book of Lost Things follows 12 year old David whose mother is dying. When she passes away, his father finds another woman and she has a son. David hates her and his new step brother and wants everything to return to how it was. In the meantime he resorts to his books and gory fairytales in a room which used to belong to a boy who mysteriously disappeared along with his sister... someone is watching him though, and walking through his dreams. One day, a German plane crashes into the garden, David hears his dead mothers voice and enters the creepy sunken garden only to come out in a different world where The Crooked Man is hunting him down. David is constantly in danger and he must find a way home and decide whether he really wants to bargain with the trickster..
This story is written in the third person. It is truly inspirational, it is told in an old fable way reminiscent of old fairytales. In itself it is like a fairytale made up of lots of fairytales and shows the change in David from a frightened little boy a long way from home, to a man.
It battles with a child's loss, of jealously and resent and the family circumstances of which he find s himself in.
The story is beautifully written, the characters all realistic and well constructed. In it, some men appear weak and women fierce and evil which reflects David's home life.
Although children can read this story, unlike adults they will not understand a lot of the themes and underlying inferences. There are situations with sexual undercurrents which David doesn't understand and doesn't want to. As a reader you see the world through his eyes.
Small elements of old fairytales are featured, such as Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Goose Girl, Little Red Riding Hood to name a few and just like the old fairytales they are gruesome.
I was surprised I liked this book so much since I only picked it up because it looked like the only interesting one for me in the charts at the moment - but it wasn't chosen by The Times Books Group for nothing.
You'll find this book retails at £6.99. However, if you go to WH Smith, they are doing 2 deals at the moment - buy one get one free on the first 50 of the paperback chart, and also buy one get one half price.
Waterstones are doing a 3 for 3 and last time I checked The Book of Lost Things was in the collection.
Definitely a good read.
'Once upon a time, there was a boy who lost his mother !'As twelve-year-old David takes refuge from his grief in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother, he finds the real world and the fantasy world begin to blend. That is when bad things start to happen. That is when the Crooked Man comes. And David is violently propelled into a land populated by heroes, wolves and monsters, his quest to find the legendary Book of Lost Things.