HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I’d say something about my resolutions to read more and blog regularly, but that sort of behavior is a jinx. I’m going to take it easy and we can all be surprised together when I’m still posting regularly at the end of the month.
I finished John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things in a single sitting. As I’ve said many times (mostly here), I love classic fairy tales. The Book of Lost Things reads like a love letter to these old stories and to reading. The tone and pacing made me feel like a kid listening to a story before bed, even though much of the book isn’t kid-friendly (there’s some intense imagery). The story follows twelve-year-old David as he adjusts poorly to his mother’s death. His father has moved on with another woman and welcomed a new baby into their family. David feels rejected and betrayed by his father. He begins to have “attacks” and strange sensations. When he hears his mother’s voice calling to him from a cracked wall in a sunken garden, he crosses into another world where he is hunted by wolves and the Crooked Man as he looks for the way back home.
The Crooked Man is the ideal villain for this story. He’s genuinely powerful, threatening, and knows how to needle David. In the scene below, he is speaking to David after being nicked by a sword:
“I have walked through your dreams,” he said. “I know everything that you think, everything that you feel, everything that you fear. I know what a nasty, jealous, hateful child you are. And despite all that, I was still going to help you. I was going to help you find your mother, but then you cut me. Ooooh, you’re a hard boy. I could make you very sorry, so sorry you’d wish you’d never been born, but—”
The tone of his voice suddenly changed. It became quiet and reasonable, which frightened David even more.
“I won’t, because you’ll have need of me yet. I can take you to the one you seek, and then I can get you both home. I’m the only one who really can. And I’ll just ask for one small thing in return, so small that you won’t even miss it…” (173)
I have one quibble, a tiny one. David is well versed in fairy tales, but when the Crooked Man makes a typical, storybook request, David is slow to pick up on the likely consequences. Sure, he’s young, but his defining characteristic is his love of books, of fairy tales and old stories in particular. It’s a pet peeve of mine when a character doesn’t know something they can be reasonably expected to know. It makes the “mystery” feel cheap, as through it exists for the writer’s pacing needs, instead of fitting the characters. With this exception, the plot is well constructed, which is why something small can stick out so badly.
As the book makes use of familiar tales and characters, you might expect a little predictability. In all cases, Connolly has switched up personalities and motivations. If you’ve seen the show Once Upon a Time, this book runs on a similar conceit. However, Connolly stitches a tighter, darker story.
Overall: 4.5 (out of five) So much better than expected! I’ll add some of Connolly’s other books to my queue…not the massive one for this year, for next year.
Translation: This is a great book to curl up with in the winter.