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Brunch Book Club Review: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

book of lost things 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 a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

Apparently attempting to read books where the child protagonist loses a parent they love deeply so close to the time you have lost one of your own parents is not an advisable move. Full confession mode: this book was extremely hard for me to read in August, and so I didn’t get to reading it until early September. Michele from Just a Lil’ Lost was extremely understanding – hence the delayed review and meet-up discussion for this book. Having said that, while the beginning of the book hit a nerve for me, I found the last 2/3 of the book to be absolutely delightful and a wistfully charming read.

“These stories were very old, as old as people, and they had survived because they were very powerful indeed. They were the tales that echoed in the head long after the books that contained them were cast aside. They were both an escape from reality and an alternative reality themselves. 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, but sometimes the walls separating the two became so thin and brittle that the two worlds started to blend into each other.”

I found that David’s journey into the world of the books to be a darker and deeper passage than I had expected. At the beginning of the book, he is young boy, slowly losing his mother and, once she has gone, seemingly losing his father as well to another woman and a new family. He consoles himself, as many of us might, in his books, reading familiar and unfamiliar stories again and again. He’s young and petulant and sad, and it shows. Eventually, David is drawn into the world of the books where he is forced to face his greatest fears and to begin the process of growing up.

There’s much to admire about this journey into the world of fairy tales and legends. Nothing is as it seems, and there is an edge to events that makes this very much an adult tale. When David encounters a huntress, their conversation is chilling and direct:

“But why children?” asked David

“Because adults despair,” she answered, “while children do not. Children accommodate themselves to their new bodies and their new lives, for what child has not dreamed of being an animal? And, in truth, I prefer to hunt children. They make better sport, and better trophies for my wall, for they are quite beautiful.”

Much as the original fairy tales were not for children, David encounters disturbing versions of familiar stories – dried husks of men inside suits of armor, a humorously obese and annoying Snow White, Marxist dwarves and a ruler who is more Game of Thrones than Prince Charming. There is even Rumpelstiltskin in a different form. Throughout it all is the Woodsman, a fatherly figure who is there to give David the strength and moral compass necessary to survive each encounter, until it is simply up to David to make the right choice and to save the world. There’s a strong comparison to the television show Once Upon a Time, and I do wonder if the writers of the show weren’t influenced by the book in some way.

This is a journey towards adulthood, and the acceptance that not every story will have a happy ending, but it will end nonetheless. As David matures, he begins to realize that what we want isn’t always what we need, and that sometimes we much give up our heart’s desire in order for others to be happy. Like David, we are drawn in by the Crooked Man (who is revealed to be not what he seems), and can see the temptation in his offer. In the end, however, it is up to David to rise up and reveal the man he is meant to become, returning to his life and making the choice to move on. Like life, it’s bittersweet, but the journey makes it all worthwhile.

The use of language is absolutely beautiful, and I found myself re-reading sections of the story simply because they are so lovely to hear in your head. The ending of the book is almost epilogue-like, with the prophesies of the Crooked Man and even the Woodsman coming true in their own way. There is a cycle to the story that echoes that of life, and while the story took a while for me to connect to, I am so glad to have the words and images in my reading memory.

“And in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, David would lie awake and listen. The books had started whispering again, yet he felt no fear. They spoke softly, offering words of comfort and grace. Sometimes they told the stories that he had always loved, but now his own was among them….. The old man caressed their spines in farewell as he passed from the room, then left the library and the house for the last time to walk through the damp grass to where the sunken garden lay.”

Did you read The Book of Lost Things with us? Be sure to hop over to Just a Lil’ Lost to link up your review!

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2 Responses »

  1. I was just wondering about that with regard to the book I just read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as to whether these books are of benefit or best avoided when the subject is so raw and real for someone. I have a feeling a little distance is required. But I would imagine that even an adult who lost a parent when they themselves were a teenager would experience something very deep and hopefully healing by reading books with a sensitive message. Whether the loss was recent or a very long time ago, the feeling of loss is always there somewhere and it’s not always easy to articulate the feelings, these books do that in a way that seems reassuring.

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    • I think part of the process of reading books like this is that we make connections to our reading no matter the circumstance. While I did find it difficult to start this book, I also felt that the ending was a perfect conclusion considering the circumstances. I love Ness’ book as well, and think that it is a wonderful way to introduce the subject, especially for students who have suffered a loss. I also encountered similar issues when reading Deborah Ellis with some of my students who had recently arrived from Afghanistan – sometimes these memories are still so fresh that each student brings a completely different interpretation to the words on the page than what you might have planned.

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