It is a rainy, soggy day here in usually beautiful San Diego. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I’d magically moved to Seattle while I slept last night. I suppose everyone and everything else is as startled by the damp cold as I am, because I’ve discovered that my internet goes out while it’s raining, and in between showers it works again. It’s odd, and more than a little annoying. And it means that I’ve been trying to publish this difficult little review all. day. long. But it’s here now. And the crowd goes wild!
As I confessed on Wednesday, I am not partaking in NaNoWriMo. I am far too obsessive and neurotic. As it is, there are days when I forget hygiene, food, family, and everything except what I’m working on. I don’t need to make it into a month-long freak out, though I could probably stand to lose the few pounds I always drop when I go into weirdo-writer mode.
That being said, I feel a little left out. The men have No-Shave November or Moustache Movember, all the other writer’s are doing NaNoWriMo, and what does Amanda have except jealousy because she has no thing? I don’t like feeling jealous, and heaven forbid that I be “the girl without the thing.” So I made a thing.
Here’s my thing: I’m a little behind in my reading challenge for the year because of the move. I’m five books behind, to be exact, so I’m going to read 11 Books in the 11th Month!
And yesterday I finished book #1: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly!
When several of my friends (and blog friends) found out I was reading this particular book, I got the same response: “It’s good, but it’s definitely creepy!” I’m not a big scary anything girl. I don’t go see scary, or even slightly-too-suspenseful movies. I avoid the horror genre in both literature and other entertainment like a plague. I cried during the preview of a Saw movie once, and my poor brain just cannot handle The X Files, but this was, somehow, different. My friends were right, the book was very good, and it certainly was creepy, but not in the I-can’t-sleep, wish-I’d-never-read-this way, but in the delicious, perfect-for-Halloween-week, face-your-own-fears way. The few times it got to be too much, I put it down, did something else, and when I came back to it I was fine. I found that the expectation of the scare was worse than the thing itself.
David is a young, bookish boy of perhaps ten when his mother dies. He is left with just her memory, and her books. She was the one who first ignited his love of stories; she believed that books are alive, or at least they come alive when human eyes read them, or human lips speak them aloud. When we read a story, we give it breath, we make it real. So David continues to read her stories, even though her memory is painful. All the while, World War II is lashing at the windows of his world, but his father chooses to keep him in London since his son is all he has left in the world. In the following months, David falls into a deep sadness, and in his despair he begins to hear books talk, and see things, specifically a crooked man, which belong in stories and not out of them. When his father marries a new woman and has a second son, David’s plight becomes worse, and he starts passing out for long times, dreaming of a strange world that seems foreign, yet familiar.
In his new house, with his new family, David begins to see strange things more and more. In waking dreams, David discovers oddities about his new home. There is a sunken garden with a hole in the stone wall, and out of it he hears the voice of his dead mother. One day he takes a walk in the woods behind the house, and looks up to his room only to see the crooked man flipping through his books, and sometimes his room smells oddly for no reason. He knows the crooked man is there for him. One night, the voice of his dead mother is particularly talkative, and David decides it is time for this to end. He follows the voice to the hole in the wall of the sunken garden and finds himself in a new world, one of malignant fairy tales and unspeakable dangers.
Through battles with the Loups, a mutant race of half-men, half-wolves, the loss of the Woodsman and the knight who protect him, the out-witting of trolls, friendship with communist dwarves, and the constant threat of the crooked man and other foes, David traverses this odd new world, defeating his fears and slowly transforming from a boy to a man.
As my friends noted, there was a creepy aspect to the novel, but for me it was mostly before David entered the new world. There, the crooked man, evil though he may be, belongs. It’s when he’s in our world that he freaks me out a little bit. That, and the huntress who like to play Frankenstein, but I’ll let you discover her for yourself.
There were two things I appreciated most about this book. First, I loved that Connolly intertwined so many classic stories, everything from Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” and Sleeping Beauty, to subtler influences, such as The Goose Girl, The Water of Life, and even the slightest twinge of the Biblical story of Queen Esther. Every good story finds the roots of its inspiration in yet another story, and fairy tales, as Connolly so wisely puts it in an interview printed in the back of the book, are “the first stories, the essence of later tales.” I especially like that he did not give into sentimentality. These are not the soft Disney fairy tales of your childhood, but brutal warnings closer in kin to their earliest ancestors, and though they are not cuddly and nice, they are truer in some ways, despite their crueller edges.
Secondly, I loved what this book had to say about growing up, about those awkward places where your person distorts and stretches and pulls as you transform from yearling to fledgling adult. To transform successfully we all must face down a lot of fears and figure out some truths about ourselves, and though we may not get literally lost in a world of story to do so, the stories we read to help us along the way. In so many ways, this story is hyperbole at its best, a demonstration of the way stories help us become better versions of ourselves on a scale more grandiose that real life, but not less real. It is a coming of age tale that, once you get past the gore and creepers, will resonate deeply within the pit of your soul.
Overall, this was a fascinating read, and I would definitely re-read it, for I’m certain there are little strokes of genius that I missed. Connolly included a guide to some of the folklore included in the story in the back of the book, which was incredibly informative, but it also pointed out a lot of connections with the story before David entered the new world and David’s adventure there that I had missed until he pointed them out.
And now I’m ready for another good adventure. The soupyness of the day made it perfect weather for staying in and starting a new book, which I did, because I am smart and I hate getting unnecessarily wet. In keeping with the fairy tale these, I began (and have nearly finished) The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman, and I also finally feel ready to tackle The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma.
So here it goes, 11 Books in the 11th Month!
- The Book of Lost Things: John Connolly