Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

From an author who's previously written mysteries and thrillers, we now have this abso-freaking-lutely awesome fairy tale for adults. I loved this book, tore through it in less than three days, and have already verbally recommended it to at least five people.

It's a coming-of-age story with a young boy/man whose mother has died after a long illness and whose father rather swiftly remarried and produced a baby brother. (Step-mom was a nurse at the institution where the dead mum was receiving hospice care, which gives you an idea of the timeline.) The story begins in the suburbs of London during WWII. Boy has conflicts with step-monster, but she's not evil; everyone's having tough times, and once we cross Narnia-style into the alternate reality we'll see that all the characters are imbued with complexity and ambiguity.

The coolest thing about this book is the way it retells the fairy tales you thought you knew. For example, Little Red Riding Hood wasn't a girl who was nearly eaten by a wolf, she was woman who fell in love with and seduced a wolf, giving birth to a race of half-wolf, half-human creatures that embody the struggle between instinct and intellect.

This book also gets bonus points for having a gay knight (disowned prince, in fact) searching for his lost lover, and for managing to encourage acceptance and diversity while acknowledging that those ideals don't mean that people won't sometimes have negative reactions and that those reactions don't necessarily indicate their deeper feelings.

I'm putting this book in my Top 10. (There are actually only two other books that are definitely in my Top 10: The End of Faith, which I've already blogged, and Cloud Atlas, which I haven't yet, although I have written up another of the author's books, Black Swan Green. Building my Top 10 is one of the things I hope to accomplish through writing this blog.)


Anonymous said...

Hey Christopher - I'm wondering if you thought at all about the relationship between this book and the movie Pan's Labyrinth? I think I experienced both at the same time and really enjoyed the parallels - 'real world' is dark and barely tolerable; fantasy world is also dark but somehow more understandable to the young protagonists. Yes, definitely a best book!

Christopher Cuttone said...

Yes, I thought of Pan's Labyrinth right away, too. Lots of similarities: war; step-parent; new baby/half-sibling in peril; creepy fairy-realm figure who offers help but may be (ultimately is) a trickster; etc...
This book, however, has a more detailed and developed alternate reality, and the protagonist enters fully into that realm before returning to mundane reality; whereas the "hero's journey" in Pan's Labyrinth is more episodic and liminal, and the course is reversed so that the protagonist's home -- and her final destination -- is the (to us) alternate reality.
This important difference accounts for the film's much more ambiguous (tragic?) ending. Because we, the readers/viewers, are tied to the everyday world, we can never be certain that the hero really does return to her princess's throne, whether that truly was her destiny or just a fantasy.