About the book
The Book of Lost Things is a stand-alone novel by John Connolly. It was published in 2007 by Hodder and Stoughton and it is 512 pages long.
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.
What I thought
Randomly picked as the first book to use as research for my dissertation, I had no idea what I was about to read with The Book of Lost Things. My sister had previously read it though and assured me that I would like it regardless of it being research.
All good things come to those who wait...
The story starts off quite slow, building up a background of child protagonist David and the life that he leads. With his mother being ill, close to dying, and the country at war, David is having a very hard time of things. He loves his mother very much and although he knows that she will die, he does everything he possibly can from stopping this from happening. However, when his mother does eventually die, David is distraught and unsure about how to go on with life with results in strange black outs. It isn't long before David's father meets someone else and with a new baby on the way, David and his father move in with Rose.
This is the point where the story really gets going. David has always loved stories, as they were something that he shared with his mother and his new bedroom is filled with books. Along with David's strange black-outs, he can also hear the books talk to him. In his dreams he sees a Crooked Man, scary and strange. With his father always away at work, David is stuck in a house with a little step-brother he doesn't like and a step-mother he likes even less. When David is sent to his room one night, he escapes into the sunken garden and manages to move into a different world.
Although the beginning of the story is really slow, I liked how it built up to something bigger and a lot more exciting. This build up also helped to understand David completely. While he is only 12 years old, David has a strong personality and is very sure of himself and what he believes in. The beginning of the book sets David up as a character that you want to cheer on, even though you don't know what is going to happen to him yet. His life has been hard in such a short amount of time and I personally wanted something good to happen to and for him.
It doesn't take long for the other world to come to life completely. Upon entering this other world, David is left standing in some strange woods and he knows he could be in danger. The wolves descend and David is saved by The Woodsman. This is where fairy tales come into this story. As The Woodsman explains how this strange world works, he adds in some tales about things that have passed. Although this book is not a fairy tale retelling, John Connolly adds in some specific fairy tales in order to enhance his own tale.
On David's journey he encounters a great many strange characters which include Snow White and the seven dwarves and Rumpelstiltskin as well as hearing tales about others like Little Red Riding Hood. These fairy tale characters alter and change David's journey in some way or another and in very different ways. Even though David doesn't actually meet them all, and only hears of some of them in stories, their actions effect what David thinks and does. Connolly works in these fairy tales while still changing some aspects from the originals and this is something that I loved and why this could be classed as a retelling in some ways. Even though some aspects are changed, the feeling of the fairy tales stays true to their originals. The stories are gruesome and dramatic and also don't have the kind of happy endings that we are used to nowadays. I respected Connolly very much for staying true to how fairy tales were originally written.
The world that Connolly created for David to be in was fabulous and extremely interesting. At each different milestone, I could never tell what would happen next to David or what danger he might come across. The Book of Lost Things has a great many twists and turns as well as secrets. Also, as a great many fairy tales are used in this book, I could never be sure which were going to crop up and what kinds of characters David would meet. For me, this is one of the most interesting things about this book but maybe because I have such a strong interesting in it in general. Connolly's writing is magical, which represents the world he has created well. Everything about his writing has an air of fantasy and mystery about it which fits in with the theme of the story.
Back to reality...
While this book does have strong themes from past fairy tales, there is also something very real in it as well. As explained in the notes at the back of the book, Connolly took his own feelings of loss and put them into this story. Although not a biographical story, it does have truthful aspects to it and this helped to make characters very real, even if they were something from lore and legend. David and his family especially were interesting because of the time that they lived in. During a time as hard as war, David doesn't really realise that his problems are only small in comparison to other things that are happening in the world. I loved the fact that David was a 12 year old boy through and through and this never really changed. Along his journey in the other world, his experiences do change his perception of the world but it never changes his personality. David does grow during the story because of these events and in turn, character development is strong.
In the end...
Overall, I really did love this book. Far from being a fairy tale for children, this book is scary, intense and full of all the magical things that I love about books. Connolly is an exceptionally talented writer and pours life into his characters. I am so happy this was my first book for research as it has given me a whole lot to think about.