After last week’s rant, I thought that perhaps I should prove to you that I can be positive as well, and so, while this week’s book cover is admittedly of a similar colour scheme to that of the Twilight novels, the story itself is of an exceedingly better quality. I chose to write about it as it was recommended it to me by someone who didn’t know me, and since this is what I’m technically doing for you guys I figured it was pretty relevant.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is a book I would recommend to anybody, regardless of their gender, age or genre preference. It mixes different worlds, themes and story telling styles so well that I think it provides something for everybody (or nearly everybody, as there are no machine guns/space ships/aliens – but I promise you it doesn’t need it). If you want a more specific advertisement than that, I would say that anyone who has read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and enjoyed it will also like this. Similarly, anyone who read The Bloody Chamber because they liked the idea of fairytales being twisted and modernised, but disliked Carter’s execution, will enjoy this book as, while Connolly takes a similar approach, he does it in a completely different – and far less feminist, in-your-face – way.
The Book of Lost Things centres around a young boy called David who has recently lost his mother. In the aftermath of his grief he begins to hear the fairytale books she used to read to him talk, and so takes refuge in these ‘voices’ and stories. He also begins to be visited by the main antagonist of the novel, a villain named the Crooked Man who, had I read this story at a younger age, would have given me many sleepless nights – a thoroughly convincing, creepy character who mixes the stereotypical fairytale villain with the more relevant, modern day corrupt figures. These events come to a head when, after the birth of his new half-brother and the beginning of World War Two, David is propelled into a world where fairytales are twisted into dark stories both explore both the supernatural – talking wolves and shape-changing witches – to the more mundane things a child in the 1940s would find strange or disturbing, such as a knight trying to conceal his homosexuality.
From my brief plot outline you can see how the book can appeal to all – it deals with adult issues and themes but places them in a world that younger readers will enjoy and be thrilled by. The book can be interpreted in many different ways; one thing I love about it is that it is never made explicit whether what the events are true or simply a construct of the protagonist’s imagination, so while some can read it as an childhood fantasy similar to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, others can read it as David exploring all the issues in his life through a strange, multi-layered hallucination. It is left up to personal interpretation – I personally go for the former, but that’s probably because I love fantasy books and so like to believe that, at least in literature, magic is real.
Another thing I really loved about this book was how deeply researched it is (not exactly a factor that will set many hearts alight, but I can appreciate the effort it must have taken). At the end of the book, the author has written an extensive and very interesting notes section titled Of Fairy Tales, Dark Towers, and Other Such Matters, which details the fairytales he has drawn from to create the shadowy, mystical world which David must travel through on his quest to return home, as well as the origins of the myth and the reasoning behind his use of that character. If you think after reading the story that you spotted every single reference to a fairy tale, you are wrong. There are many obvious characters inspired by folklore, but also many subtle hints weaved through the narrative using both well known tales and also obscure, lesser known ones that I hadn’t ever heard of. I suppose the reason I liked this side of the book was that it not only showed you the thought process of the author (which is something that I’m very interested in) but it also forces you to revisit the stories you think you know so well – a very clever exercise having just read a story which turns all of them on their head.
So, should you read The Book of Lost Things? If you like fantasy, yes. If you like horror, yes (ok, so it’s not exactly on a par with Paranormal Activity, but as far as scary literature is concerned it does deliver a dark, sinister world which leaves you feeling slightly out of place). If you like novels that track a character’s progress and development, then this is a really unusual example which uses childish ideals to aid growth. And finally, if you like stories which explore themes which are hard to deal with – grief and loss, sexuality, the responsibilities of an adult – then you’ll enjoy this. Similarly to Room by Emma Donoghue, The Book of Lost Things looks at a thoroughly adult situation through child’s eyes, allowing you a perspective which provides an honest and complex insight into complicated issues with rewarding results. (Wow, I’ve gone from slamming Twilight to writing long, profound sentences – I’ve probably just lost any readers who clung on after last week.)
On the other hand, if you like books on war, I probably wouldn’t recommend it. This book, despite being set in Second World War Britain, has so little mention of it that you’d probably be disappointed…