Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A Recommendation, If I May Be So Bold

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly.

'Everything You Can Imagine is Real'
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High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the loss of his mother. He is angry and he is alone, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness, and as he takes refuge in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother he finds that the real world and the fantasy world have begun to meld. The Crooked Man has come, with his mocking smile and his enigmatic words: 'Welcome, your majesty. All hail the new king.'
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And as war rages across Europe, David is violently propelled into a land that is both a construct of his imagination yet frighteningly real, a strange reflection of his own world composed of myths and stories, populated by wolves and worse-than-wolves, and ruled over by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a legendary book . . . The Book of Lost Things.
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I first discovered John Connolly through a desperate and vague Christmas request (always a risky stratedgy I know, but it pays off suprisingly often) a few years ago. I'd asked, quite simply, for short stories. I received quite a few. The most impressve one though was Nocturnes, by John Connolly. Partly it wa sso impressive as it was Hardback. Plus it was a deep, beaten purple, like a bruised book, designed to look old, worn. And it was a first edition. And it was signed. So there.
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Anyway, most of the stories in Nocturnes I read and reread, I even used one as a basis for a short I film I did with some retrobate Year10 boys. Bizarrely though, after that, I forgot all about him.
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So one night I'm lying in bed, listening to the Weekender on Radio 2 (a programme on which I will one day be mentioned. Oh yes.) and I'm listening to a review of The Book of Lost Things, and it sounds really interesting so I stop reading my book and pay attention. I'm dithering over buying it when I hear the authors name. Then I'm sold.
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I'm a big Fairy Tale fan. The proper Fairy Tales, the ones about murder and rape and fear. This is why this book appealled to me so much. I plays with Fairy Tales, it expands on them, it twists them, it does wonderfully creative things to them - The Snow White character whom the Prince ditched and so has let her self go, bullying the Dwarfs into providing an endless procession of food. The Prince on a quest to find his gay lover, shunned by this Kingdom and his father.
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I've tried reading Angela Carter before a number of times because I know this is something she enjoys too, The Bloody Chamber I managed, but often found it off putting wading through the language. Her prose it beautiful, is poetry, but I often find th story has been lost somewhere. In The Book of Lost Things there is no such problem. The prose is simple, elegant and from this is dramatic and often poignant.
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There is a balance between the world we know, a one in which a young boy is confused by war, by the loss of his mother, by the arrival of a new woman, of a new baby, and the world in which David finds himself, the nightmarish world of Fairy Tales and myth. One world in which David has no power, no control and from which he tries to lose himself. The other,the mystical landscape he discovers is a world in which he has importance, in which he tries to find himself and over which he gradually realises he has some power.
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At the heart of the book is a emotional journey of acceptance which David must tread in order to come to terms with his new life. Decisions he must make order to survive, decisions he must make on who survives. David is a vunerable character, a boy searching for his mother, for a father figure he believes he lacks. He wanders, clinging desperately to those around him for support and comfort. He truely is lost.
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This book isn't perfect, occasionally some episodes lose focus. The odd tale seems sandwiched in simply because it sounds good, but they are all well written, darkly comic and sinister.
It is The Crooked Man that I left with, I took him home, bought him a drink and he was mine. The Crooked Man, part angel, part devil manipulating David, controlling the world around him and hiding a truely disturbing secret - and some images that remain with me long after reading the book. He feeds Davids insecurities, he nurtures his jealousy, he guides him and tricks him in equal measure. He is terrifying and alluring. He could well be one of the best anti-heroes I've encountered.
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Anyway.
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I've gone on a bit, and no, it's not because I'm stuck with my own writing. I just wanted to offer a holiday read. It's not for everyone, it's not exactly an emotional journey or a rollercoaster ride. But it tugged at my heart strings, it had me turning pages furiously and staying in when those around me danced and drank. Not many things manage that.
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John Connolly's website is here
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You can buy a copy of The Book Of Lost Things here
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Or, if you can, go to your local library. Mine serves coffee and biscuits on a Tuesday.

6 comments:

Caroline said...

I need this book!
Sounds exactly like my kind of thing.

Thank you.
x

ps - I miss DK.

watching9987 said...

Caroline - Somehow I suspected that this may appeal to you.

And I know, DK sends his love but is busy working on his speech (he has been nominated for Best Movement On A Dancefloor By A Work Top Appliance) but he does send his love, and thanks for his badge.

KatW said...

Well you've sold this book to me. Even convinced me to turn away from kiddie fiction for long enough to read this.

Have you read Neil Gaiman? He does good adult fairytale.

Ok gotta go as typing with one hand is doing my nut in.

Oh but nearly forgot - congrats to DK on his award.

Kat :-)

watching9987 said...

Kat - It's like kiddie fiction for evil grown ups... I suppose. It's one of those books could read with the kids, they'd have nightmares - much like I still do from Watership Down. Never read the book, will NEVER, EVER watch the film again. EVER. - but I think parents will get a lot from it too. I have some Neil Gaiman kicking about the place unread. Most of my stuff is in boxes/piles. But I will hunt him out and dedicate an afternoon to him.

DK says a smug 'Fzzt x'

Can Bass 1 said...

Sounds a little grim for my taste. I prefer my gloom to be Victorian, but whatever! And my library serves biscuits on a Wednesday.

watching9987 said...

CB1 - My library is closed on Wednesday. Well Wednesday afternoon, so it may as welle closed all day. I've never managed to get there before 12...
Sorry I can't convince you, but hey, wouldn't things be dull if everyone always agreed? :)