Which do you think will be read and savoured in 100 years time, the fairy stories of the Grimm Brothers with their roots in the old darkness of firelight nights or the latest Jodi Picoult about a life that the children of parents yet to be born will have no knowledge or interest in. Yet the same children when meeting the stories of world long faded even when written down by the Grimm Brothers will still be amazed and scared. Don’t believe me? Well I do story telling in pubs to adults and have known an entire bar go quiet and listen intently as a story of woods, princes and monsters enfolds in their mind.
It is from this deep well that John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things draws on as he tells the story of 12 year old David’s losing fight to keep his mother and family he knows a alive. His anger and grief causes him blackouts and a wish for revenge as his father deals with grief by marriage and work. David discovers the presence of the Crooked Man who can move between the world of living and story. Books start talking to him and boundaries blur so that when his anger and that of his struggling step-mother collide it sets into train his explosive entry into land of story.
Once there we meet traditional fairyland characters but from an adult and darker angle… Red riding Hood hunts out the wolf for sex and worse! It becomes clear that the adventures reflect David’s fears and the choices he must make as he struggles to deal with his grief and anger. To make the wrong choices will leave worlds destroyed but so will the right ones as he learns that happy endings are for fairy stories. But as heaven is what we make it, his death when it comes is not the end of the story.
This is not a children’s story but an adult story about when childhood ends and what life is made as we grow up. Its portrait of David trying to keep his mother alive and his feelings made me cry in the first 10 pages such was the lyrical nature of the writing. The stories within stories are not distractions as some reviewers suggest but insights into the characters that David meets and his own feelings and choices that he has to make. It has lots of comic moments as well as the Snow White and communist dwarfs’ episode shows. However, ultimately it’s a story about growing up and letting go of illusions, which makes it very sad and poignant. So if it gets to be a film think David Lynch or Tim Burton rather then Disney and you are on the right track about the tone of the book. Recommend for an easy enjoyable and moving read.