Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guest Post from ds @ Third-Storey Window: The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

Joining us from Third-Storey Window is ds, who was kind enough to share her review of "The Book of Lost Things". Ds is a relatively new blogger - she's been blogging since January - but you would never know it to read her website. I've been following her for about four months, and in this time have been so impressed with her book selection, her thoughtful and creative posts, and her friendliness. If you've not visited her yet, please take a moment to do so. I think you'll like what you see! And now, for her review:

John Connolly’s wonderful novel The Book of Lost Things is part fantasy, part Bildungsroman, part war story, part quest, and part homage to all of the stories we read or are read to as young children: fairy tales, folktales, legends, and myths. It is also a ripping good read.

David, a young boy living in London in the early days of World War II, loses his mother to a long illness. He is an imaginative boy, and she has filled his head with all kinds of tales, and they “came alive in the telling.” To escape the pain of her death, David loses himself in books. All too quickly, David’s father marries a woman named Rose and they have a son, David’s half-brother. London being dangerous and the flat too small, this newly created family moves to Rose’s ancient family home in the country, complete with ivied walls, creaking windows, an attic room filled with books that is David’s new bedroom, and a neglected sunken garden with a mysterious gap in its far wall. The locals tell stories of children who have disappeared, Rose’s uncle among them. The book-filled bedroom overlooking the garden that is now occupied by David had been his. Rose has purchased some books she thinks that David might enjoy; they have settled in amongst the uncle’s boyhood reads. David has brought along the volumes of old tales that were his mother’s favorites, and they too take their places on the shelves. But these books are dangerous. These books remind David too much of his mother. These books “recognize something in him...something curious and fertile.” These books begin to speak, first in a whisper, then more and more loudly, for these
stories were very old, as old as people, and they had survived because they
were very powerful indeed. These were the tales that echoed in the head
long after the books that contained them were cast aside....They were so old
and so strange, that they had found a kind of existence independent of the
pages they occupied. The world of the old tales existed parallel to ours, as
David’s mother had once told him, but sometimes the wall separating the
two became so thin and brittle that the two worlds started to blend into
each other. (p.10)

Then the Crooked Man appears. And David, grieving, confused, angry, and lonely, follows him through the gap in the garden wall.

What happens to David in that other world, the characters that he meets, the problems that confront him, and the solutions that he forms are the heart of the novel. Yes, there is a Woodsman; yes, stories are told, but each time with a slight twist; yes, there is a moral of sorts to each, for the chapters of the novel are laid out like the tales of the Brothers Grimm, which Connolly cites as one of his primary sources for The Book of Lost Things. Indeed, the final 130 pages of the book include a “Conversation” with Connolly; the original version of each tale “recycled” in the telling of David’s story; and Connolly’s own “psychoanalysis” of his young protagonist, a telling that would make Bruno Bettelheim very proud. (Bettelheim, along with Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Robert Browning, and Mary Shelley, among many others, is included in the catalogue of sources that fed Connolly’s imagination while writing this book.) So there’s a bit of meta-fiction tacked on after “all that was lost was found again,” which adds some geeky fun and explication to the story, though nothing would be lost without it. David’s tale is powerful enough on its own.

One of my favorite--in fact, the funniest--chapters in The Book of Lost Things is Connolly’s version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In it, the Brothers Grimm meet Walt Disney and drag him to a viewing of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Here is David’s first encounter with one of Connolly’s dwarves:

“Mind where you’re going,” said the dwarf. He was about three feet
tall and wore a blue tunic, black trousers, and black boots that came up
to his knees. There was a long blue hat on his head, at the end of which
was a little bell that no longer made any sound. His face and hands were
grubby with dirt, and he carried a pickax over one shoulder. His nose was
quite red, and he had a short white beard...

“Sorry,” said David.
“So you should be.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“Oh, and what’s that supposed to mean?” said the dwarf. He waved his pick
threateningly. “Are you sizeist? Are you saying I’m small?” (p.122)

Can’t you just hear Michael Palin as that dwarf?

I gulped The Book of Lost Things down in two quick sessions. It is fast-paced, it is well-written, it is fun. At the point at which you finally think you have Connolly’s story all figured out (Yes, I know this tale, it’ll end like this...) he, like the Crooked Man who pops up to thwart or aid David to serve his own peculiar agenda, has a different trick up his sleeve, and it is very clever. Very clever indeed. The Book of Lost Things is as much a testament to the power of stories to shape us, as it is to the power we have to shape stories of our own. As David discovers--and Connolly states--we leave pieces of ourselves in the stories that we read, just as they leave their pieces in us. We just have to know how, and where, to look.

Connolly, John. The Book of Lost Things (NY: Washington Square Press, 2006). Including the compilation of original tales at the end of the book, it is 470 thoroughly engrossing

4.5 out of 5 stars


The Bumbles said...

This book is by far my favorite read of this year. I have never read anything like it before and doubt I'll ever find anything to quite match it again. I wish that the copy I read from the library had the post-conversation with the author - that sounds like a delicious way to top of this "ripping good read!"

Daryl said...

Over from DS's place .. nice to meet you!

Arti said...

Thanks Sandy for inviting ds as your guest blogger. I've come here from her Third-Storey Window.

And ds, thanks so much for this wonderful review! This book is in my loot I hauled back from the used book sale. Sounds like a great summer read.

Literary Feline said...

Great review! This is definitely a book I want to read. It sounds perfect.