The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

BOOK REVIEW:  The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Washington Square Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7432-9890-2

At times, I like the think of myself as a fairly well read individual.  But about the time I start to get cocky, I come across an author who has been writing for a while, but for some reason (no doubt a lack on my part) fell under my radar.  One such author is John Connolly.

I actually picked up Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things because of the papercut illustration that decorated the cover (Robert Ryan, a favorite in our household).  Yes, yes, I know that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but a well realized cover can make a book stand out for a casually browsing customer.  I also remembered seeing his name on a few lists along with Neil Gaiman (perhaps my favorite author of all time), so once I read the dust cover, I was hooked.  One of the best spontaneous buys I have made in a long time.

The Book of Lost Things has a pretty simple premise:  a young boy loses his mother, and due to that and other stresses in his life, starts to imagine strangenesses such as books that murmur and whisper to him, and dreams of a shadowy figure that he calls The Crooked Man.  Then one fateful day he is thrown into another world, where his boyhood stories come to life, with terrible implications.

But this is no quaint, modernized fairy tale or child’s updated fable.  The world that young David finds himself may be populated with familiar characters, but their actions are often horrifying and all too real in their consequences.  There are woodsmen and wolves, and wolves that would be men, white knights with deep secrets, sorcery, even Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (one of the more comical sections of the book) – but none of them are what we would expect, unless we took the original Brothers Grimm at face value.  The Crooked Man turns out to not only be real, but a sinister catalyst in this realized land of make believe.

But even more exists – not only are David’s stories manifest here, but so are his fears.  As he travels towards the city that houses the fading King, who rules the land and may hold the key for David’s return to his own world with his Book of Lost Things, he must make decisions that no child should have to make.

 This is definitely NOT a children’s tale, but its simple prose and tacit acceptance of the fantastical things that are occurring do evoke a childlike wonder and keeps the reader indelibly rooted in a world where disbelief is easily suspended.  Connolly has a gift for being able to write about fantastic things without a hint of artifice or a lot of self-examination (something we adults are prone to do constantly), yet he doesn’t “dumb down” David, either.  The descriptions he gives us are just enough to allow us to build vivid images in our own imagination, which is highly appropriate, given the parameters of this fantastical world (this comment will make more sense once you’ve read the book).  This lack of complication allows the story to stay on center stage.

The Book of Lost Things will creep you out and stay with you for a long time, but it will not leave a bad taste in your mouth and it will cause you to pay more attention to those shadowy things that you see for just a second out of the corner of your eye.  I highly recommend it, and I will definitely be checking out more works by John Connolly myself in the near future.

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~ by arcticwren on January 2, 2010.

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