The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Copyright 2011. Young Adult Fiction. ISBN 1442429348.
The Book of Lost Things is about David, a young boy who’s lost his mother and is trying to adapt to a life with his father’s new wife and her infant son, his only friends being the books on his shelf. However, there seems to be a dark presence hovering over the family, spreading infectious anger and frustration and straining relationships. Sometimes, David could swear he sees a figure in his bedroom window when he’s outside, one that clearly means no good.
It isn’t long before David is sucked into the world where the figure comes from: a world of nightmarish fantasy, sinister evils, and fairytales all twisted and wrong. The king of the realm is aged and his ability to rule is failing, but there may be hope for the land, and hope for David to get home, in the king’s sacred book: The Book of Lost Things.
Style and Technique:
The Book of Lost Things is written in the third person, focused mostly on David and occasionally on other characters. It’s set during World War II, which acts as the backdrop of the beginning of the book and plays a significant part in the first few chapters. The rest of the book is set in a world of Connolly’s own making, and he expertly stitches it together with creepy undertones and subtle nightmares.
Although the book was published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, this is not a children’s story. John Connolly takes familiar fairytales and twists them around to be not-so-familiar, and often horrifying. He amplifies the shadier (and sometimes sexual) implications that are often overlooked in the classic tales, and asks questions such as, “What if the king was not a benevolent person? What if the princess was not an innocent?” He weaves these dark tales together with reflections of nightmares you might remember having as a child into a setting that seems familiar and cheerful on the surface, but the more you see, the more uneasy you become. This is an author who would prefer the original version of The Little Mermaid to the Disney version.
Throughout the book are sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle signs of misogyny. The majority of minor villains that David meets in the other world are twisted women with vile practices: a huntress who removes the heads of boys and girls and surgically transplants them onto the bodies of animals, to be released into her woods and hunted down at a later date; a Beast that’s described as a large sucking worm with thick, spiny hairs that gives birth to hundreds more of itself; and a cursed sorceress looking for love and forever rejected (because only men can make her feel good about herself break her curse in classic fairytale fashion).
Although this could be seen as an attempt to create an equal balance of male and female characters throughout the book, Connolly could have pulled this off to a greater effect by putting some females in sympathetic roles, rather than almost exclusively antagonizing roles. There are only two female characters in the novel who are not antagonistic throughout the book: David’s mother, who is dead to begin with, and Anna, a young girl with an unfortunate curse.
Connolly’s grasp of characterization is excellent. Our main character is David, a young, confused boy whose lost his mother and, as children can sometimes do, blames himself for it. He is naïve, sometimes petty, and will be familiar to all readers who’ve had a childhood.
The main antagonist of the book is The Crooked Man, a character straight out of nightmares. He is loosely based on Rumpelstiltskin, but, like all other fairytales in Connolly’s world, has been twisted to be made even worse. He is a conniving and malicious character, the kind that instills an icky feeling whenever he appears in a scene.
The Book of Lost Things is an engaging read that plays with expectations and overturns the familiar, but the author has made some unfortunate casting decisions. 3 ½ out of 5 stars.