The Book of Lost Things

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

publication date: 2006
pages: 339
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9885-8

John Connolly explored the power of words and stories in The Book of Lost Things. The book began with young David, who understands the power of stories and books because that was taught to him by his dying mother. After his mother’s death, books become so powerful that they talk to him and beckon him to join them in another world. That is where the plot thickened, as David was transported to another land – a land with things both familiar and impossible, like the Crooked Man and wolves that look like humans.

The Book of Lost Things is very focused on stories and words. In fact, the narrative is its own character, with personality and motive. Because of this somewhat loose definition of narration, Connolly included unique plot twists and stories; however, it also meant a lot of plot holes. It seemed to me Connolly was less concerned with the coherence of the plot and more concerned with its fancifulness and any lessons we might glean from it.  In that way, Connolly mirrored the fairy tales he was alluding to.

Connolly also included many quips and rules about stories, such as which ones are best and which ones only boring old adults like. For example, books on communism are boring and poems are only good if they have a plot. He also included this bizarre condemnation of newspapers:

Newspaper stories were as insubstantial as smoke, as long-lived as mayflies. They did not take root but were instead like weeds that crawled along the ground, stealing the sunlight from more deserving tales.

The passage above illustrates Connolly’s writing style: wordy, with a Victorian formality that I usually found tiresome. I assume Connolly was again attempting to mirror the stories and fairy tales that were such a focus of this book. Although I found the writing style generally tiresome, Connolly was good at creating a sense of place. I was able to clearly imagine the places he described, such as the Crooked Man’s kingdom and the Woodsman’s cottage. Most of the places sounded distinctively horrifying; for example, the Hunter’s lair:

[T]he room was dominated by two great oak tables, so huge that they must have been assembled within the house itself; piece by piece. They were stained with blood, and from where he lay David could see chains and manacles on them, and leather restraints. To one side of the tables was a rack of knives, blades, and surgical tools, all clearly old but kept sharp and clean. Above the tables hung an array of metal and glass tubes on ornate frames, half of them as thin as needles, the others as thick as David’s arm.

For ninety-eight percent of the book, I was usually a little bored or a little confused, but there was one passage in the book that was so sad, beautiful, wonderful, poignant that it really made the whole book worth a read. I have already re-read that portion several times and think it is one of those pieces of literature I will remember forever. Of course, it wouldn’t have had the impact it did if I had not read the remainder of the story. The book is enjoyable enough, and that extraordinary passage transforms the book into something I would recommend.

4/6: worth reading

some other reviews:

Fairy Tale Critic
LAist
USA Today

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