“The Book of Lost Things” – A Splendid Nightmare

“The Book of Lost Things” – A Splendid Nightmare

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  1. If you are squeamish about brainsick visions and fantastical but disturbing stories that linger in the mind for weeks, I would stray from John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. However, if you’re like me and find that what is dark, queer, and demented makes for fabulous literature, this should be your newest read.

    At first I was skeptical. I wrote off the first 50 pages as simply another dull attempt to provide a dark fantasy that could enchant an adult’s mind and prod their imaginations as a child’s. But Connolly came through and delivered a unique twist that deserves recognition among the avalanche emergence of adult fantasy in modern culture.


    It begins with that classic (though quickly slipping into cliche) story of a child who finds comfort and seduction in a fantasy world when his own reality is becoming too distressing to face. 


    After drawn-out suffering, the mother of the protagonist, a young boy named David, finally dies in what he refers to as a “not-quite hospital.” While mourning for his mother, he finds himself isolated when his father gets his new girlfriend pregnant and she moves into the house and gives birth to a new sibling. As his anger at life and desperate solitude intensify, David begins to hear the voices of books everywhere, from the fairy tales in his own room to the scholastic arguments of the books in the therapist’s office. David’s reality, dominated by rampant nationwide war and a broken home, is then corrupted by another world where a crooked man with a long nose stalks the baby’s room and his late mother’s voice beckons him to the garden out back.  


    David finally follows his mothers pleads and is thrust into a world where the seven dwarfs are legally bound to care for an obese and gluttonous Snow White and a hunter creates the perfect prey by severing human heads and attaching them to the bodies of deer.  Connolly takes fables and the demented tales of the Brothers Grimm to a newly deranged realm as David fumbles on a journey to reach a King who holds “The Book of Lost Things.” 


    This book gave me nightmares – no joke, some of the scariest nightmares I’ve ever had.  However, I guess it’s only fair to point out that I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to scary things, so take it with a grain of salt. 


    A movie has an easy task when it comes to planting the seed for nightmares – the visions are catapulted directly and vividly into your head with assistance from state of the art imaging and sound effects. The echoing of those scenes later in your mind, whether conscious or unconscious, seems almost expected. However, if a book causes nightmares, that’s something.  Connolly is one of those rare authors who can create thoughts so scary and powerful that the words solidify in your mind and take root. 


    The first fantastical obstacles David faces are the most childish of horrors: trolls guarding bridges and packs of wolves chasing him.  Slowly the horrors grow more grotesque: tricksters who lie to children and eat their hearts and heroes impaled on thorns. Humor and value are nestled amongst the more disturbing pieces, making it easier not to wallow in a dark place for the entire book.  Still, a sinister read. 


    There is also a very sympathetic side to the story – the illustration of how such a young boy copes with tragedy and the resulting trauma. Before his mother died, David performed certain routines every day believing that “his mother’s fate was linked to the actions he performed.” He would step out of bed with his left foot first, brush his teeth in strict counts of 20, and bring the same books downstairs in the morning and upstairs at night, but his mother still dies. The humanity of the story is not evidenced simply by emotional monologues or tears, but instead by these touching scenes showing how a pure soul fares against a hostile reality. 


    I had only two complaints to make about this book:


    1. This is a story that’s been told a million times – Pan’s Labyrinth… Harry Potter… a child discovers a fantasy world that allows them to escape from a rough reality.  The idea of ‘fairy tales gone mad’ has been showcased in theatre, books, and movies for years.  I found the references to a deranged fairy tale princess entertaining but not at all original.  Although I was sure that the read would be amusing and hopefully a page-turner, during the first third of the story I had doubts about any new territory really being plowed into by Connolly. I must end this critique by saying that I was more than impressed by the unique ending of the story, where originality was finally allowed to make it’s own statement among other similar attempts.  


    2. While the content of this book is very adult, I thought the story was hindered by mini-claused sentences and the vernacular of a child.  It is always such a pleasure to be challenged by foreign words or have to reread a complex sentence that can be interpreted a thousand ways. As an avid fan of words and their march, I am always eager to see how the creator can string words together to add a new element of awe to his story.  I didn’t find that here.  Perhaps this was an attempt by Connolly to make the story appear through a child’s eyes, perhaps it’s just his style, but I felt the exaggerated simplicity detracted from the rich substance behind the words.  


    With any series or book, you cannot claim literary genius behind an author until you have read the final pages and seen how the story came together, judging the rest of the book by it’s implication in those last pages.  There were seeds of mystery planted throughout the entire book, some resolving themselves in the very chapter they were born and some becoming motifs in every scene, sprouting in the first chapter and remaining a mystery until the conclusion.  Overall: impressive. twisted, and definitely recommended. 

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