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The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart was written by French singer Mathias Malzieu. (His band Dionysos have released a concept album based on the novella) Now, when a pop star in this country brings out a book, it's usually a ghost written autobiography, despite them being barely out of puberty. This, thankfully couldn't be any more different. Originally published in France named " La mécanique du coeur" in 2007, and translated by Sarah Ardizzone, published in the UK in 2009.
"Firstly: don't touch the hands of your cuckoo-clock heart. Secondly: master your anger. Thirdly: never, ever fall in love. For if you do, the hour hand will poke through your skin, your bones will shatter, and your heart will break once more."
The story begins in Edinburgh, 1874. When our hero, Little Jack, is born on the coldest night on earth, his heart freezes. Dr Madeleine saves him by giving him a cuckoo clock heart. Despite Dr Madeleine's warnings that falling in love could kill him, Little Jack finds himself falling for the beautiful little singer Miss Acacia. Miss Acacia has another admirer, in the form of school bully Joe and Little Jack finds himself falling into great danger as he ignores all warnings from Dr Madeleine and tries to win Miss Acacia's heart, Joe never far behind.
I was always a sucker for fairy-tales when I was younger, and now that I'm all grown up that hasn't changed much. Except, well, as much as I love Disney, most of their films leave me feeling depressed that life isn't really like that, there isn't always a happy ever after. Take something like The Little Mermaid, for instance. Ahh, that's a great film isn't it? And isn't the ending lovely and happy? The story that originates from, written by the superb Hans Christian Anderson, most likely won't make you feel all warm and gooey inside. Unless you are a bit mental, that is. But there is a lot more truth to it, that Disney kindly hides from you. Adult fairy-tales aren't really fairy-tales at all, because they usually contain heart crushing truth - it's just the same gritty truth and the crappyness of life tied up in a pretty bow.
The Boy with the Cuckoo-clock Heart is essentially a book about growing up and learning that the delightful innocence you have as a child is lost forever when you finally 'grow up' and you can never go back to how you once were; you can never recapture your old dreams. I think anyone who has ever fallen in love can sympathise with Little Jack and his plight. He knows falling in love could kill him but he doesn't care; he wants to feel the beauty of love. We learn that falling in love does kill Jack, but not in the way we originally thought, he discovers the joys and the pains that go hand in hand when it comes to love, and it's really upsetting because you know if you were in his position, you would do exactly the same.
I must admit I did that awful thing where I bought the book because I liked the front cover, but the cover does really represent the story so well. The imagery is beautiful, the descriptions would fit right into a Tim Burton film. The narration is odd, but fun. The narrator is our hero, Little Jack, and despite it being in the first person, our narrator is aware of what's going on around him when he's sleeping, before he's been born etc and there are a few anachronisms that suggest the narrator is still with us. The filmmaker, Georges Méliés turns up as Jack's companion, himself looking to win back his lost love by creating a voyage to the moon. Jack the Ripper even makes a short, disturbing appearance! I have a suspicion this is one of those books that you grow with, and your reaction depends on the experiences you've had in life. Personally, part of me wanted him to heed the warnings of Dr Madeleine, who tried to protect him from the world, and part of me wanted him to discover what the world had to offer...
Although I would say this is aimed at adults; the themes aren't necessarily too dark or scary for youngsters, but I do think the theme would go over kiddies heads, and the ending might not be everyone's cup of tea. There is also some mild swearing - the word 'bloody' turns up a few times, there are some sex references (in beautiful language, mind) and there is a hamster called Cunnilingus so I would say despite the lovely front cover and the overall fairy-tale ideal, this may just be for adults!
It's a beautiful, funny, sad novel that, for a fairy-tale has an awful lot of truth in it that may upset even the hardest of readers. For those who don't want to accept the horrors of growing up and losing your dreams, this may not be for you. Certainly worth a look for fans of Tim Burton, Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm.