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John Connolly – The Book of Lost Things

November 20, 2008

145. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (2006)

Length: 339 pages

Genre: Fantasy; Coming of Age

Started: 16 November 2008
Finished: 18 November 2008

David’s stuck in a
fairy tale, but it’s not the
nice kind of story.

Summary: David is a 12-year-old boy when he loses his mother to cancer. Already introverted and compulsive by nature, after her death, he retreats even further into the world of books – books that he can hear whispering to him, wanting to be read. His father getting to a woman named Rose and having a son doesn’t help matters either, and soon David is having spells where he can see a faraway forest, and hear his mother’s voice calling to him. He can also sometimes see the Crooked Man skulking around Rose’s old house. When one night David follows his mother’s voice through a cracked stone wall in the garden, he actually enters the world he’s been glimpsing, a world pulled from his storybooks, a world where fairy tales are true – but not the sugar-coated versions told to children. In order to get back to his own world, David must find the King, who holds the Book of Lost Things, which David is told contains the knowledge of how to travel between the worlds. However, he’s being pursued by the Loups, a pack of wolf/human hybrids, intent on feeding… plus, the Crooked Man is always just out of sight, watching David, with sinister plans of his own.

Review: This is one of those weird cases where almost everyone out there in review-land seems to be in rapturous transports of wonderfulness over how great this books was, and I’m just… not. It’s especially weird because this is one of only a few books that I’ve picked up specifically *because* of the glowing reviews I’ve read. At least in this case, I can understand why everyone else liked the book so much, even if I can’t quite pin down why it didn’t do much for me.

Actually, this book reminded me very strongly of Keith Miller’s The Book of Flying. The storyline and structure of both are very similar – a young boy sets off on a journey to find the keeper of a book that will grant him what he wants, and along the way meets people and has adventures and generally comes of age – even if the lessons they learn along the way are somewhat different (the nature of love vs. the nature of being a grown-up). The tones of the two are likewise very similar: mythic, epic, and full of rich language and poetic imagery, with something dark beating at their core. And, finally, both books elicited the same reaction from me: I felt like I *should* really like them, that they contain all of the elements of stories I liked, they were wonderfully written, but I never really connected to the main character, and thus I never really got particularly absorbed by the book.

In David’s case, I think that this lack of connection was at least somewhat intentional on the author’s part. David’s set up to be a boy who doesn’t really connect to anyone as well as he does to his books and his memories of his dead mother, but that ultimately meant that he didn’t really connect well with me as the reader, either. Similarly, the sweeping mythic tone of the book meant that its events felt distant and remote, and never really feel a part of the story. I also wasn’t really blown away by the darkness and creepiness of the story. On an intellectual level, Connolly does a very nice job integrating fairy tales in their most primal forms into his dreamworld, and uses them to illustrate the dark, raw power of sex, and hate, and fear, and human brutality. However, this wasn’t a particular revelation for me – I’ve read dark, twisted fantasy and fairy tales before – and since I wasn’t really involved in the story, the power of the darkness got somewhat diluted, and instead of leaving me shivering and creeped-out in a good way, it just left me with an uncomfortable and squicked-out feeling.

It gets a 3 out of 5 stars based on my personal experience, but on a more objective scale, it would probably merit at least a 4.

Recommendation: So, in general, I can’t find anything exactly *wrong* with the book – it’s well-structured, beautifully written, and does a very nice job exposing the dark side of growing up through the power of fairy tales – it’s just that I never got into it. And that, of course, is just as likely to be my fault as the book’s, so other readers who like dark fairy tales will hopefully have better luck with it than I did.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Stephanie’s Written Word, The Hidden Side of a Leaf, Things Mean a Lot, Everyday Reads, The Bluestocking Society, Book Escape, Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books, She Reads Books, Marireads
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2008 5:00 am

    I have heard a LOT about this book too. Still not certain if I’ll pick it up though :(

  2. November 20, 2008 1:43 pm

    Ladytink – If you can get it from your library, that’s what I’d recommend. If it’s something you love, like most people out there, then you can hunt down your own copy, but if it winds up being something you should love but don’t (like me), then no harm done except a little bit of time spent.

  3. November 20, 2008 3:46 pm

    Hmmm…I’m not the only one who is at loggerhead to other readers. I don’t usually find “whimsical” books being up my alley, and that is why I have not picked this one up. Too many question marks in my mind.

  4. November 20, 2008 4:42 pm

    Sorry you couldn’t get into it! Do you think the high expectations formed by all those rave reviews had something to do with it?

    I’ve has this happen to me too – knowing I should love a book but being unable to – and sometimes there really is no reason why.

    Anyway, despite our different opinions I really enjoyed reading your review :)

  5. November 20, 2008 5:39 pm

    great and honest review, sorry you didnt enjoy it more.
    my copy of Inkheart arrived today! thanks :)

  6. November 20, 2008 6:47 pm

    I completely agree with your review. This was a hard book for me to get into as well. Not until 3/4 in did I finally feel invested to finish and really interested in what was going to happen. The part before he goes through the hole in the wall was the hardest for me to read. It took me a few tries to get past it.

  7. November 20, 2008 10:18 pm

    It was a library book for me which softened my review. I didn’t think it was the greatest book ever – in fact I thought that David was quite a little pill and the women were awful in that book! But then that made sense, David felt disconnected, as you said, and he was having trouble with the mother figures in his life. (Couched for spoilers although hasn’t this been out a while?) It was okay. Interesting in light of John Connelly’s other books.

  8. November 21, 2008 9:18 am

    I picked this one up in the bookstore and it flunked my flip test — not a single sentence or paragraph grabbed me. It might have been the wrong day, but it seemed a bit dense considering all of the positive reviews. But, I still might read it, someday.

  9. November 21, 2008 10:46 am

    Matthew – “Whimsical” is one of the last words I’d use to describe this book… “whimsical” sounds like fluffy bunnies and rainbows, and less like animals with human heads sewn on, and the bad guy ripping out the hearts of children and eating it in front of them.

    Nymeth – My high expectations may have contributed, but I think it was in large part just the wrong book for the wrong mood. I liked it well enough that I’m not mooching it away, but putting it back on the shelf to maybe try again later.

    bookworm – I hope you enjoy it!

    mari – I think by 3/4 of the way through I’d mostly guessed how the ending was going to go, so I still couldn’t get into it.

    Carrie K – I haven’t read any of Connolly’s other books – How does it compare?

    Nancy – It was kind of dense, if a book can be dense without also being slow-reading, or maybe I’m just mixing up “dark” and “dense”.

  10. November 21, 2008 2:29 pm

    I know exactly what you mean about a personal rating and objective rating–that’s why ratings are so difficult for me!! I’m sad that you didn’t like this one better because I just picked it up this weekend after looking for a used copy for months. Oh well!

  11. November 21, 2008 2:34 pm

    Trish – Oh, don’t be sad because of this review, go read one of the million bazillion reviews that loved it, and then dive into your used copy optimistically. :)

  12. November 21, 2008 7:03 pm

    Can you believe I’ve been reading this one for about 2 months now – I’m interested in what I’m reading but there are other books I would rather read first.

    I hate when this happens, but I know I finish it eventually.

  13. November 24, 2008 9:04 am

    Joanne – I can very rarely do that. I’ve got a fairly terrible mid-range memory, and I need to read a book as straight-through as possible if I’m going to remember any of what happened. I’ll be interested to hear what you think when you finish!

  14. December 4, 2008 12:46 pm

    Before all the hubub about this book I attempted to read it. I only got 1/3 into it or something like that and didn’t finish it. I just wasn’t liking it. I have thought about going back to re-read but…maybe I’m not alone. Thanks for the honest review!

  15. December 5, 2008 12:56 pm

    Amanda – It’s always reassuring to find company in cases like this, where I start wondering what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t get into a book that everyone else liked, and that I should have loved. So, yay!, we’re not alone. :)

  16. Lilljeroot permalink
    December 10, 2008 11:02 pm

    My best friend and I read this book together and while differing in our opinions as to its merits, rarely have we discussed a book in such depth. Through two bottles of wine, talk ranged from Grimm to Jung through pulp horror classics. It was worth the imagery alone.

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