Since all Borders stores are still in the huge discount phase, I was tricked into buying yet another book. At this rate, I think I might have to start my own library.
Anyway, the book I picked up is quite special – a fairytale for adults, and children, if you want to scare the bejeebies out of them. Titled The Book of Lost Things, this novel by John Connolly deals with many tough, real world issues, all disguised in the mind of a twelve-year-old boy called David.
David’s world is already falling apart, both on the inside and on the outside: his mother is dying, and the world is on the brink of the Second World War. Both events inevitably happen, and he’s suddenly faced with having to deal with a new mother, a new house, a new brother, and a father who doesn’t have time for him anymore. His world finally spirals out of control when Rose, his stepmother, hits him out of a sudden loss of control, and he finally gives in to the whispering world of the books – his well-loved storybooks, brought to life with the death of his own mother, and bringing him both comfort and fear at the same time.
Now, he’s in a world ruled by a dying king, and is quite literally thrown into the middle of a chaos that began with the birth of The Crooked Man – a trickster who lures angry children into his realm and whispers false promises to them, tempting them to give up that which they should never give up. But as David tries to find a way back to the “real” world, he has to overcome all sorts of obstacles, with every step getting more and more difficult as he’s gradually forced to face his own fears and insecurities. And all the while, The Crooked Man watches, waiting for the moment David gives in to his weaknesses.
Around chapter six or seven, I realised that Connolly was following the old Campbell formula for “The Hero’s Journey“. Not that I can fault him for doing so; that formula has been tested and proven itself true time and time again (think Star Wars, The Lord of The Rings, Avatar). If you ever want to try a hand at writing an adventure story, follow the equation. But it is the infinite variations within the formula that fascinates me so much, and Connolly manages to make it his own through clever craftsmanship and inserting observations that are startlingly truthful, like looking at the world from the eyes of a haunted child. For example, David’s father prefers reading the newspaper over storybooks, which is described as “something that would lose its relevance almost as soon as it appeared on the newsstands, the news within already old and dying by the time it was read, quickly overtaken by events in the world beyond” (9). While the “real world” may be important, there are much deeper truths with longer and more permanent roots to be told in stories, and Connolly shows us just that in The Book of Lost Things.
Connolly weaves both the real and fantastical world in a seamless manner, because the same questions and answers can be found in both. It is like placing a mirror between the two worlds, only Connolly does it in such a way that you can’t tell which world is on which side of the mirror. And even though most of the events were quite predictable (even if you’ve never heard of Campbell’s formula before), Connolly brings new life to old stories by retelling them through the eyes of characters who have experienced too much reality in life, recalling the old tradition of fairytelling where stories for children were dark, mature, and menacing. It may not be suitable for kids, but for adults, it may just be the very push we need to learn valuable lessons, and to learn it well. 8/10 stars for this book, and buy it, because the stories Connolly tells will never die.