A string of fairy tale retellings strictly for grown-ups, The Book of Lost Things sounded wonderful, but was ultimately disappointing. 3/5 stars.
The blurb: 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.
Overall, this was ok and I think it would appeal to reader who enjoy dark (pitch-black in places) fantasy.
The writing style is interesting and effective. The author has tried to adopt the highly-detached voice used in traditional fairy tales and uses it well to give economical descriptions and keep the action moving forward.
The idea of sending a 12-year old on a journey of self-discovery through a “story world” is a good one. Think Narnia written by the Brothers Grimm.
Some of the manipulations of traditional tales to reflect the main character’s psyche were excellent and even amusing (what he did with the seven dwarves made me laugh and bordered on the dizzying heights of being Pythonesque).
Unfortunately, in his desire to shoehorn in as many retellings as possible, Connolly produces a fragmented narrative which lacks drive in places. Sacrificing three or four fairy tales to give us some more complex characters or additional character development wouldn’t have gone amiss.
And finally. When I came to the end of the story (350 pages – fine) I was debating between giving this book 3.5 or 4 stars. But then I made the mistake of reading the author’s notes. All 150 pages of them.
His notes include reproductions of the original folktales he used as source material – all fine and very interesting. If only he had stopped there. What made me rather angry were the additional over-indulgent and unnecessary notes in which he robs the reader of the freedom to interpret the narrative as they wish. He tells us about how he has used each of the tales in his story and what they mean/represent in the context of David’s development. Don’t get any ideas about making up your own minds people!
When at its best, The Book of Lost Things reminded me of the film Pan’s Labyrinth (if you haven’t seen this film, please watch it). However, the film is a solid 5-star triumph largely because Guillermo del Toro has the good grace to let his viewers interpret events as they choose (are the monsters real, of another world, or all in the little girl’s mind? Or are they a bit of all of the above?).
My advice? If you’re a fan of dark fantasy and fairytale retellings then read The Book of Lost Things and close the book when you get to the end of the story. This may result in a 4-star experience.