Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

"The Book of Lost Things" by John Connolly is a novel about a young boy growing up in World War II who lost his mother, and shortly after the books on his shelf begin to speak with him. Although the official book description doesn't mention fairy tales, most of those characters are from the tales of the brothers Grimm. This Amazon review titled "One highly enjoyable and extremely adult fairy tale" says:

"The source for most of the tales encountered by David, during his journey through an alternate but un-named land, is the Brother's Grimm. And the structure itself lends closely to Lewis Carroll's tales of Alice's adventure in Wonderland and her journey Through the Looking Glass. But we cannot omit L. Frank Baum from this porridge of evil but sublime. His imprint is there and presiding with more than a tip of the hat to Dorothy and her journey to Oz and to the `Magnificent Wizard' (and a reminder of at least a couple of her companions, along the way through that journey).

But don't think I'm going to say this tale is a `copy' of any of the above! The story is wholly original in the telling... and then some.
It should be said (and already has been) that this rendering is not for children. And it is not for the faint of heart. If anything, the story can be viewed as cautionary fairy tale melded with contemporary warning to the likes of Ed Gein and John Wayne Gacy (and Gacy especially, when `feeling' the creepy crawly `below-world' of the crooked man and some of his personal culinary delights). Both of these monsters could easily have existed in David's alternate world.

And wasn't that, after all is said and done, the original warning of the Brother's Grimm?

Beware of that which seems innocent and pure because... it may be not!"

A part of me just wants to roll my eyes and say, "Another dark, twisted, adult adaptation of the Grimms' tales? How original." Although it's trendy, that doesn't mean another book with the same general premise can't be thoughtful and have unique interpretations. It's gotten pretty good reviews overall. My brother in law is reading this book right now (and he's a high school English teacher, so I generally trust his opinion on books) and he says it's well written and enjoyable. He mentioned something about the seven dwarfs being Marxist and Snow White having gotten fat. The end of the book even includes the text of the Grimm tales and some of Connolly's notes on them, which would be a really helpful feature for those who don't have a copy of Grimms Fairy Tales lying around (although I'd guess in this audience, most of you already do).

It's not a new book, but I didn't realize it was so closely tied with fairy tales. Has anyone read it?


  1. YES! It's a wonderful book. It didn't strike me as being 'extremely adult' though, just more 'upper' YA and up. None of what's mentioned above really reflects my impression of the book (except for drawing on Grimm's and other fairy tales and legends). My impression was dark but lyrical and a phantastic story which deals with sadness and loss, crossing between worlds to bring different perspectives, along the way to growing up. Given that it focuses on a twelve year old boy coming to terms with his mother's death and a war that's encroaching on his home and having to navigate that, the subject matter isn't light but more like an older, more mythically influenced version of Alice's confusion as she comes across the weird and the mad, except there's possibly a more specific journey/coming to terms with things in this book. It's not for everyone, and at times meanders, though I thought that was on purpose because of his being 'lost', but if you can handle the surreal and sometimes sinister aspect of fairy tales being explored in real world terms, then you'll probably enjoy it.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I guess that's one of the dangers of sharing amazon reviews from sources I don't know or trust...I think the reviewer's idea that the original idea of the Grimm tales is a warning against assuming things to be pure and innocent is interesting, although I'm not sure I agree. I'm hoping to borrow the book once my brother in law is finished with it!

  2. I am a big, big fan of this book! It's in the not-quite-horror-but-darn-close category, IMO... the same category where I might expect to find Raymond Feist's "Faerie Tale" (another fine, somewhat older novel that might be appreciated by many of your readers) and many of the works of Tanith Lee, among others

    1. I'm a big fan of Tanith Lee, so if it's similar that piques my interest even more!