Thursday, January 19, 2012

Good Reads: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Here is a fairy tale that is at once nothing like you've heard and yet a derivative of many stories. Dark, oppressive and near-cruel, this is a potent tale that is not some half-baked "gritty" or "modern" folkloric update mish-mash - rather this is a story that transcends the medium and becomes a rumination on the horror of childhood, the wonder of adult-hood and the impossible, unbearable, cost of growing up.

In this tale, a young boy loses his mother and, in some way, his mind. Scared, ignored and angry, he finds comfort in reading books of fairy tales that his mother dearly treasured. But, these tales are as old as Man and there is real power in something so ancient. And as young David's world comes apart, the books offer a reprieve and glimpses of magical places. They whisper to him and he hears his mother's voice - calling, pleading for help. David answers the call but right away learns that nothing as it appears and that he is suddenly cold, hungry and alone in a dangerous world that will do all it can to kill him.

In short - No easy read, the book is nonetheless worthwhile and powerful. Brisk and engrossing, the way ancient tropes and characters from myths and stories are overturned and twisted is unsettling and shocking. However, it's all done with purpose and aside from a handful of grating moments, the book keeps it's grasp on you wholly. Given a chance, the lush, dangerous world will consume you like the magical, living, ivy that comes alive at night and drags  into its forest the bodies of slain half-wolves with awful purpose.

Though small, this book left a deep impression. The main story ends in a satisfying way, but the final chapter was heart-wrenching. The simple words - a summary of a man's life in a few pages - gave the preceding chapters so much weight, so much emotion, it was unbearable. The words really connected with something deep inside myself and in the space of a few sentences, I could not stop myself from sobbing uncontrollably, weeping not only for this man, but also for myself and the endless tiny aches, pains and regrets of my own childhood.

It was an unexpected reaction that ended as I reached the last word. The experience brought up long-forgotten whispered words from my mother, hugs from my grandmother, vague notions of endless sunny days and all the hope and wonder of the world bottled up and hidden inside me, bursting forth all at once. Surprised, embarrassed and relieved, I closed the book feeling much older, with a pride that comes with gaining some bit of universal knowledge that I knew would change me for all time.

It was,somehow, my own Happily Ever After.

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