Most of us are familiar with the softened Disney version of fairy tales, but few of us have read any of the original Grimm’s fairy tales or anything like them. Many readers are also familiar with the standard coming-of-age story that inspires, however subtely, much of today’s literature. John Connolly, however, intertwines both these familiar and unfamiliar elements in his novel “The Book of Lost Things.”
Connolly’s main character, David, is a 12-year-old boy trying to cope with the loss of his mother after watching her slowly deteriorate from her disease. Connolly depicts him as a vulnerable young boy who is losing all sense of power and control in his life.
In order to regain some degree of control, David develops routines and traditions that give him peace of mind, a sense that he does have some control over his life. He develops patterns like getting out of bed a certain way, washing his hands a specific number of times and other idiosyncratic routines. David does these things because he believes it will help his mother in some way; he feels useful and helpful by taking part in these daily routines. However, when his mother eventually dies from her disease, he feels as though he’s failed her and his routines have failed him. However, he’s unable to stop himself from keeping them up.
When his father eventually remarries, David and his father move into a new house, where David’s stepmother gives birth to a new baby boy. All of David’s efforts to stick with his routines begin to crumble as he is thrust into a set of events that neither David, nor readers, are expecting.
One night, after David has lost all semblances of normalcy and routine in his life, he hears a voice. A voice which he thinks will lead him to his mother and his old life that he misses so dearly. Unsure of what is happening, he follows the voice and ends up where he never thought possible.
He enters a hole in a gnarled tree in his backyard and is transported to another world, where fairy tales come to life. The fairy tales, however, are not the sort that we are used to hearing — nor are they the sweetened versions that we as a modern audience are used to.
The first person David meets is a hunter who saves him from the “wolves” that prowl the forest. The hunter tells David about the King’s book, something the hunter thinks will help him get home and away from the dangerous forest. The rest of the book spins the story of David and his desperate quest to find the king and his book.
Elements of other fairy tales, including Snow White, the Three Billy Goats Gruff also appear.
Even though David is desperately seeking safety, he has a strange sense of exhilaration over these new and exciting events. This is where the coming-of-age story comes into play. Although Connolly has created an amazing chain of events with the retelling of such classic fairy tales, the really unique aspect of “The Book of Lost Things” is that he also tells the story of a young boy who grows and develops throughout the novel.
His experiences help to shape him into a more mature young man who certainly becomes ready to handle nearly anything that can be thrown at him.
Whether it is the story of David’s growth that intrigues you or the retelling aspect of fairy tales, this book is certainly worth giving some of your attention. John Connolly writes in a style reminiscent of his 12-year-old protagonist that is surprisingly successful at conveying a suspenseful and engaging story as well as creating complex and highly innovative characters. Definitely put this one on your “Must Read” list.