You know you’re in for a treat with a new book when your roommate exclaims excitedly over the title in your hand as you read in the lounge room and then continues to gush for the next five minutes over the brilliance of said novel. The only other time that this has happened was when I was reading one of The Kingkiller Chronicles in public. And we all know how brilliant those books are, so I was pretty excited to delve into the world that Connolly had created in this novel.
And, boy, was I not disappointed.
I have a thing for twisted fairytales. Case and point: the fact that I watched the first season of Once Upon a Time in a day.
No seriously, I did.
The Book of Lost Things is built on twisted fairytales. Our protagonist, David, is growing up in WWII era England, which would be traumatic enough. Add to that the fact that David lost his mother to cancer and is currently coming to terms with the fact that his father has remarried and he now has a brand new baby brother, and no wonder David finds solace in his old books of fairytales. But it’s how these stories get twisted that make up a fair chunk of the story.
The plot of this book begins with David having “fits”, where he can hear his books whispering to him when he’s upset. These then transition into flashes of another world, that then finally transition into David actually entering this other world after almost being exploded to death by a crashed German bomber.
This particular version of The Book of Lost Things includes both an interview with John Connolly and a look into the reasons why certain fairytales were included. As such, my impressions of this story have been tainted by hindsight. I don’t usually delve into the deeper, metaphorical meanings in stories on this blog because if no one is interested in reading that particular book, then no one’s going to care why certain choices mean certain things. Therefore, I’m going to steer clear. Instead, I’ll just urge you to buy this particular copy of The Book of Lost Things if you can. Because once the story ends, it’s nice to get that author insight into the choices that he made. Plus, it gives you greater appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into a novel. I don’t know about you, but this is something that I forget about a lot of the time.
What I will say is that Connolly twists fairytales that we know well to suit his world. Well, David’s world. In some ways it was hilarious, in others it was thought-provoking, and in one case my childhood has been irrevocably damaged. Seriously, I’ll never look at Little Red Riding Hood the same way again. Fairytales all come from somewhere else. Not one of our modern fairytales started the way that we see them now; in particular the Disney-fied versions. So it was wonderful to see these stories being changed a little. Or to me, anyway.
The Book of Lost Things also has a distinct mental health undertone. Our protagonist, David, develops OCD when his mother gets sick, as a way for him to control the uncontrollable. As well as this there is also the fact that, depending on how you read this book, David’s adventures in the other “realm” could have all happened in his mind. I won’t give it away, but there is a scene towards the end of the book the suggests to the reader that David’s adventures were nothing but a dream. Not in that terrible scapegoat kind of way, but in an incredibly genius kind of way that leaves the story open to reader interpretation.
This undercurrent of mental health isn’t the focus of the story in any way, but to have it included was important to me. Important to a lot of people, most likely. Our hero suffered from OCD. He managed to do all sorts of heroic things, all while fighting the urge to complete his compulsions. This is oh-so-important. This tells us that anyone can be a hero.
Another important inclusion? A queer hero. Not David. Another character, who is all around awesome and your general BAMF, is queer. This, again, isn’t the driving point of his character. It’s not the focus. But it is brought up, addressed, and then everyone moves on. It is accepted. And I feel like this is yet another step into bringing our LGBTQ+ friends and family out into the mainstream media. Which is yet another cause close to my heart. Again: absolutely anyone can be a hero.
Connolly has created a wonderfully complex world that comes alive as you read it. Hell, at some points I could have sworn I could smell and taste and hear the world about which I was reading. This book is the epitome of vivid. Nothing is bland, nothing is two-dimensional. And in a book where everything has its roots in folklore, that is no mean feat.