by John Connolly
published by Atria Books
rating: 3.5 out of 5
One of the first things I chose to do when I learned I would not be going to Oxford this summer was to sign up for a few more reading challenges; and one of the first reading challenges I chose to join was Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge. I had so much fun with his RIP challenge this past fall that I knew I wanted to be a part of his fantasy festivities this spring.
Now, I am not a fan of fantasy fiction -- yet --- but this is just one area in which I would like to expand my literary horizons. I chose to read The Book of Lost Things because I had heard such lovely reviews from fellow book bloggers (namely Nymeth, Robin and Chris), and I had purchased a copy of the book at a used book sale several months ago. This would allow me to "double dip" and use the reading of this book towards Carl's challenge as well as the TBR Lite challenge.
I found the basic premise of the story to be fascinating! David is a young child and a part of an idyllic family, that is, until his mother becomes very sick. David is very close to his mother and strives to do all a young child can do to help heal a parent: he is obedient, he prays, and he embraces her love of reading. Unfortunately, her illness is more than his efforts can handle, and she eventually dies. David's father eventually remarries and with his second wife, Rose, he has another son, Georgie.
David's reaction to this new family is to be expected: he is jealous of his half-brother, he is leery of his step-mother, and he is mournful of the family life he once had. David retreats into his book-filled room and soon discovers that he can hear the books whispering. At one point, he even hears his dead mother's voice beckoning him into the woods behind the house. She is in trouble and she needs him to save her. He immediately follows. Our unlikely hero has now embarked on his adventure!
The woods are indeed enchanted, as one would expect of a fairy tale, and David finds himself in the middle of a quest: to save his mother from peril and to return to his original home. Along the way he meets a mentor, the Woodsman, who befriends David and promises to take him to the castle where he will learn how he can return home (this was reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz - and at one point reference was made that story).
The wolves and loups are evil creatures and are determined to kill David before he reaches the castle. They are certain that he is to be renamed the King of the forest - and they have plans to claim the throne for themselves. David also meets a knight, Roland, and David becomes his squire. David agrees to accompany him on his personal quest, and in return Roland will lead David to the castle (this was reminiscent of the great knightly tales of King Arthur).
Other well-known fairy tales, Snow White in particular, are referenced, but with an altered storyline than we are accustomed. I laughed out loud at the retelling of Snow White, but most of the other familiar stories had far darker undertones than the original. In fact, this entire story has rather gruesome, and somewhat graphic, depictions of the evil that lurks within the enchanted forest.
As all good fairy tales end, David eventually finds his way back home and he is now grateful for the family that he has. In the woods he has been forced to grow up and discover strengths and talents that he never knew he possessed. He truly does become the hero of the story and the reader is left satisfied that he will return to his world a confident, mature, and upstanding member of society.
I enjoyed the storyline. While it was a bit darker than I would have liked, it definitely held my attention. The fantasy portion of the book had enough elements of reality, that my black-and-white brain could truly grasp the meaning and enjoy the story. The ending was expected and yet quite thought-provoking. The author not only resolves the conflict, but all the loose ends of David's life are beautifully knitted together. The storyline receives a 3 out of 5 in my opinion.
What truly stands out for me with this book, however, is not the plot, but the eloquent way in which it is told. The author is a master at word images and lingering metaphors. I was instantly drawn into the book because of the lyrical language. Often times I would re-read a section just because of its beautiful writing - not because it was difficult to understand. The book will remain on my shelf because I believe I can use it in the classroom as an example of excellence in writing, which in my opinion, earns a rating of 5 out of 5.
Let me leave you with buy one of the many examples of this lush writing style:
Stories....came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath the blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David's mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life. (page 3)