November 4, 2008

Review: The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly



I've written several different reviews for The Book of Lost Things in my head up to this point -- and I'm still not sure how best to capture the flavour of this novel. Or whether I want to recommend it to other people. Or how to process it, still. It seemed like the book kept turning into something different, and I'm having trouble coming up with a sense of the whole.

I still liked it, though. Onward and upward. Here's the blurb:
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.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells and dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

David has problems. First his mother dies, and then his father takes up with a tart, whom he impregnates and then marries. Now David's got a new mother, a new brother, a new house, and the Germans are bombing London. The book starts like a typical YA novel, with the addition of some amazing passages about storytelling and the value it has in our lives:
Before she became ill, David's mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren't alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs or cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren't paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn't exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.

Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring the music into being. They lay dowmant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David's mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.

So then it felt like a YA book with a "stories are important!" angle, as well as some generally excellent prose. And then David gets sucked into another land, a land made up of stories, and some things happen and then there is a riotously funny chapter about Snow White and the Seven (communist) Dwarfs, and I thought, "Oh, this must be a funny book."

This is not a funny book. Except for that one chapter, there is nothing remotely funny in The Book of Lost Things. It is gruesome. And it is not, I think, for children. Um. Or some adults . This is not gruesome like CSI, where you get some genteel sort of autopsies and occasionally blood-spattering flashbacks. No, this is people chopping each other in half, and hundreds of heads flying everywhere, and people, I don't know, doing things like pulling out someone's heart and eating it in front of her. And then trapping her soul in a jar. It is the stuff of nightmares, my friends.

I mean, it's still fantastic. But it's also gross and horrible and malleable. Consider yourself warned.

My biggest quibble with The Book of Lost Things was actually not the gore but its ending; everything sort of gets tied up in a few pages, and it just seems a little abrupt and strange. On the plus side, this made room for about a hundred pages worth of author interview, notes, and source material, which is both fun and fascinating. And the prose, the prose is great. And the villains are truly, truly villainous. John Connolly is an excellent writer, and I definitely want to check out more of his work.

I can't think of anything else to say, because I've been watching election coverage for hours, and that does things to the old brain cells. Suffice it to say: read this book.

7 comments:

Jessica said...

I felt similarly about this book. I think you did a better job of expressing it though. My review: http://thebluestockings.com/2008/06/the-book-of-lost-things/

Nymeth said...

My edition had all those extras too, and I just loved them.

I agree that the book was really dark and gory, but in the same way old fairy tales are really dark and gory, so I thought it kind of fit. And even though it's only been a year I can't remember how it ended! Probably a sign I should read it again :P

Fyrefly said...

This was already on my shortlist for November, and now I'm even more excited to read it. Yay!

John Connolly - The Book of Lost Things « Fyrefly’s Book Blog said...

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jay said...

i haven't read a lot of the book yet but so far its a decent read

Jonathan said...

My edition didn't have the extra content (then again, it was on sale for five bucks), but I kind of wished it had. I left the book wanting more. It definitely left an impression on me...