Saturday, May 31, 2008

THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS by John Connolly

The Book: John Connolly, THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. Atria, 2006 (first American edition). Inscribed by the author. Fine condition.
First read: 2006
Owned since: 2006

A bonus post for John today, because it's his birthday; happy birthday, John, and many more to come.

THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS is a most appropriate book to mark anyone's birthday, in fact. It is a story of the transition from childhood to adulthood, a story about how we decide what to keep and what to let go, and how to cope with the fact that we don't always get to keep what we love best.

Just as the Second World War begins, ten-year-old David loses his mother to a long illness -- despite his best efforts to save her, through what feels like magic to him but looks like obsessive-compulsive behavior to the adults around him. David's father remarries a little too quickly, and immediately presents him with a most unwelcome baby brother. David responds by retreating into the world of books, which start to talk to him -- literally, talk to him, even from the shelves of the psychiatrist's office his father takes him to.

David and his family have retreated from the Blitz to a country house, but it is not safe, either. While in his back garden, David is struck by a crashing German airplane that knocks a hole into a different world, a world where David's books are real. David finds himself in that world, and the only person who can help him get back to his own world is its mysterious king, keeper of the magical Book of Lost Things.

David's journey takes him through twisted versions of classic fairy tales, some well-known, some obscure. A dark and disturbing Red Riding Hood has helped to create this world, where half-men/half-wolves hunt in packs. David meets seven socialist dwarfs, who take him home to meet a very different (and hilarious) version of Snow White. Roland, of medieval mythology, helps David, and throughout his journey David feels the comforting presence of a Woodsman watching over him -- while the evil Crooked Man lays traps at every turn.

The eventual discovery of the king and the Book of Lost Things feels both shocking and inevitable -- and David must make the choice that all adults make about what is really important to him, and what he's willing to do to protect that.

I read an advance copy of this book on a visit to Connecticut, staying with friends who live in a 200-year-old farmhouse. My mother had died five months before, and after the first chapter I didn't know if I could finish the book at all. I did, two days later, sitting outside in the sunshine and crying so hard my friend Susan was alarmed. She got a copy of the book from me for Christmas, as did about two dozen of my closest friends and relations.

The greatest books are boxes that hold things even the authors didn't realize they were putting inside. THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS is a treasure chest, and even if John weren't my friend, I'd be grateful to him for it.

2 comments:

norby said...

This book just shows how beautiful and brilliant John's writing is, I think sometimes people miss it in the mystery novels.

AnswerGirl said...

I've noticed a lot of hits on this post lately, which makes me think this is assigned summer reading in some New England schools.

Kids, read this book. You'll be glad that you did -- and please don't steal this post for your own book reports. You're going to get something completely different from this book than I did, and you're only cheating yourself.