04 April 2010

Books: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (2006)

Author John Connolly is know more for his crime fiction than fantasy novels, but with the 2006 release of The Book of Lost Things, he adds his name to the list of writers trying to cash in on the popularity of the genre for young adults. However, I don’t think this book is really a kids book, more a book about childhood.

Set in England during World War II, 12 year-old David is facing changes in his life: his mother has died of cancer, his father has remarried and has a new son with the stepmother, has moved into a new home and most of his friends - well besides his books - have left London due to the almost nightly bombings from the Nazi’s.

But the new house does have a sunken garden and a forest behind it, and it is here one day where David spies something moving around his room. But when his dad and him search the room, they discover a magpie has somehow gotten in. But David, who along with his late mother, adored fairy tales and the Greek legends of myths and monsters, knows something sinister is going on.

Later, while laying in bed, he swears he hears his mothers voice calling to him. Sneaking out, he stumbles into the sunken garden where her voice is coming from. While he explores the garden, he notices lights in the sky and realizes that a German bomber is falling straight towards the garden. With no where else to go, he climbs into a crack in the walls of the garden and into another land - a land that he becomes trapped in.

In this new world, David befriends the Woodsman who promises to take him to the King, who possess a great object called the Book of Lost Things (ala The Wizard of Oz). With this great book, the Woodsman thinks David can get back to his home. But the journey will prove dangerous and deadly as David is confronted with his fairy tale books come to life.

What is most evident in this novel is the retelling of traditional fairy tales. Anything from Snow White to Rumpelstiltskin is fair game for the author. However, none of the tales are the ones we all grew up on. Snow White is now overweight and mean-spirited and no longer charming; her dwarves are attempting to get rid of her (in perhaps the oddest part of the book, insomuch as it’s the most light hearted section of the it). Little Red Riding Hood is no longer an innocent girl visiting her grandmother, but a seductive temptress who gives birth to the first loup (wolf-human). And figures such as Rumpelstiltskin serve as the inspiration for the most despicable character - the Crooked Man.

Still, this novel is an engaging, often magical, and very thoughtful read.

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