The Book of Lost Things is a story following twelve year-old David, whose ill mother is on the verge of dying. He escapes the sharp reality of his mother’s death through storybooks to keep her memory alive, in a step-mum/step-brother scenario. Feeling extricated, David reads to the point where the books literally begin to talk at him. David’s life is transformed for the worse and he finds himself stranded in another world, a world where knights, wolves, and beasts can be found within the forest as well as his mother’s voice.
The Book of Lost Things I must admit partly drew me in through its beautiful cover. How could I not be wowed by such a shiny book? (I’m somewhat easy to please).
Another factor which made me buy it before others at Waterstones was one of my favourite themes: bibliophilia! What made David so likeable as a protagonist was his adoration for books and fairy tales, which made him incredibly relatable.
Pure strength lies in Connolly’s world-building abilities. I felt the same sense of awe I got from Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia when walking through the tree trunk into the new world with David. I loved the personification of the ivy and the danger it posed. The flowers that grew for the dead children of the forest were also a lovely little detail.
Connolly takes the atavistic fairy tale and makes it the darkest shade of Grimm. The Book of Lost Things is a very dark bildungsroman. Connolly could compete with Angela Carter’s grotesque style for sure in The Bloody Chamber. The world David stumbles into, in a Narnia-esque fashion is not a safe one, no. The probability of David being hunted down or chopped up is high throughout the book and made me want to keep on reading. Also, Connolly took a George R. R. Martin approach to character mortality, so prepare to have your feelings tampered with.
By far the creepiest thing in The Book of Lost Things is The Crooked Man, a villian who eats beetles and children’s souls. I really didn’t like the chapters that included The Crooked Man. An emphasis was placed on him and there was no explanation for his behaviour or where he came from, which irritated me. Cryptic characters can be effective, but not if they can’t be cracked by the last page.
Something which messed with my enjoyment of the novel was Connolly’s mixed messages. Roland the Knight was the only LGBT character in this novel, and for most of the plot he was portrayed in a positive light, but then this quote came about:
“David was being dragged along on a quest for a man whom he had never met, a man whom only Roland had feelings, and those feelings, if the Crooked Man was to be believed, were not natural. There were names for men like Roland where David came from. They were among the worst names that a man could be called.”
I don’t feel like Connolly took into account the sensitivity of his coming-of-age readers. Young people read fairy tales and novels as a form of escapism and salvation, but to plonk homophobic rubbish in the middle of a somewhat decent story ruined the book for me. Additionally, Connolly’s plot arc wasn’t gradual, the climax of the tower was introduced too early in the book, and then Connolly was left to tie off loose ends that weren’t interesting to read.
Connolly also took ownership of a concept that wasn’t his own, which seemed silly to me. Creatures who are half human and half wolf, which are traditionally known as werewolves are named ‘Loups’ in this novel. Connolly included mythical beasts such as dwarfs and harpies, so I didn’t understand his choice to be inconsistent inconsistency by making up his own style of creature.
David was a truly wonderful character, but I don’t feel like the plot held up well enough to accommodate him. Connolly admitted that The Book of Lost Things isn’t perfection, and I think I can agree with him there. Fragments of the book were enjoyable and held potential, but it is like a plant put in darkness, it hasn’t grown properly.
Some of Connolly’s ideas were great, but there aren’t enough of them to make me want to read this book again in the future.