Thursday, July 10, 2008

On a Roll - The Book of Lost Things

I think I'm hitting my reading stride. I've finished two books in two days! Yayyy for free time!!! The latest body on the pile:

I LOVED THIS BOOK! Just like every other blogger I've read! I'm usually not one for "it" books--the pressure of hype is usually too much for me--but this one was superb.

Since I knock it down your throats all the time, you also probably know that I love me some fairy tale retellings, and that's sorta kinda what this book is. But not really. It's the story of David, a boy whose mother has died, and he's left to cope with a new stepmother, a new baby brother, and a father who's largely occupied by his job as a code breaker for the British during WWII. David seeks refuge in his books, and before long he begins to hear them speaking, muttering, and generally chattering. His bedroom in his stepmother's big old house belonged to her uncle who disappeared when he was about David's age. The lost boy was also a lover of books, and Rose (the stepmother) thinks he'll like the room and uses it as something of a peace offering. David begins to see a "crooked man" lurking here and there...through the window to his room namely...and he hears his mother's voice calling to him from a crack in the yard's sunken garden. One night he decides to investigate and finds himself in an alternative universe peppered with fairy tale elements.

In David's new world he discovers a kind woodsman, a pack of bloodthirsty man-wolves, trolls, harpies, a knight named Roland, briar-covered castles, and sundry elements from folk tales, fairy stories, legends, and mythology. David must navigate his way to the king of the land to access the Book of Lost Things, and ultimately find his way back home. With the Crooked Man butting in all the way.

What makes this book really interesting is that it's not a retelling of any particular tale, but an amalgamation of the stories David would've read in his room. I liked the way Connolly played with standard fairy tales, changed them to meet his needs, and subverted some of my expectations.

One thing I think it's important to point out, is that this book is definitely not for children. That is, I think many children and young adults would enjoy the story, but there are quite a few elements that seem tailored specifically for adults. For one, the story is quite gory. Lots of bodies hanging, entrails, decomposition. In an odd way I really like that, for it harkens back to those original, very grim, tales that were not meant for children. Folk tales, not for the kiddos so much!

There are elements of sexuality, horror, the supernatural, and fantasy. It's a nice mix, and through it all the focus is really on David's coming of age, his dealings with grief, and his ability to adjust and cope with a new family structure. In the end it's a very human story as opposed to a fairy story. The fairy tale part is just a vehicle to a better understanding of David's mental and emotional state.

Finally, one of my very favorite parts of the whole book came after the story was done. I originally thought Connolly had included a set of the fairy tales he drew from. Given that I've read most of them, I thought that would be a worthless section for me, but as it turns out, Connolly includes a bit of commentary before each tale to illustrate and explain how he used that story, what role it played in David's larger experience, and some background on the tale. It was VERY interesting to read the author's thought process as it related to bringing all these threads together.

If you're interested in a sample passage, here's a particularly funny bit. To contextualize, the dwarfs are hilarious and disgruntled. Snow White is a horrible bitch that filches from the dwarfs, eats their food, and is generally very unlikeable. The dwarfs are the ones who've tried to kill her, if only it weren't for that damn prince! This brief passage is one of the dwarfs (Brother Number One) telling David about their attempt to bump off Snow White:

Anyway, we feed her an apple: chomp-chomp, snooze-snooze, weep-weep, 'poor Snow White, we-will-miss-her-so-but-life-goes-on.' We lay her out on a slab, surround her with flowers and little weeping bunny rabbits, you know, all the trimmings, then along comes a bloody prince and kisses her. We don't even have a prince around here. He just appeared out of nowhere on a bleeding white horse. Next thing you know he's climbed off and he's onto Snow White like a whippet down a rabbit hole. Don't know what he thought he was doing, gadding about randomly kissing strange women who happened to be sleeping at the time.
I would recommend this book to any and everybody. When I think of it, I'm tempted to draw some correlation to The Book Thief, not necessarily for the subject matter, but it has some of that same emotional atmosphere, and it's quite a complicated, rollicking tale. It rides the fence between a story for adults and a story for children, and it was a stellar read.

What to read next! Oh, I know, THE HOST!!! Watch out, Stephenie Meyer, here I come!

18 comments:

  1. I love your book descriptions! You always make me want to run out and read the book!!

    I have also read two books in two days. THey were both also about 100 pages long so no pats on my back. They are both old "classics" that I should have read years ago but there's no time like the present, right? I read The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Now I will continue on to my mindless beach/summer reads. By the way, are you on "goodreads"? if so send me an email so I can make you one of my "friends".

    P.S. More pooch pics STAT!

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  2. I KNEW you'd love it! Woot!

    I need to reread it sometime. It haunted me for a long time and is definitely on my all-time-favorites list. Perhaps it will come to the beach with me!

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  3. Funky! I'm absolutely on Goodreads. You can search estellasrevenge and I'm there or you can use the e-mail addy: trippingtowardlucidity (at) yahoo (dot) com <--longest e-mail addy ever!

    I haven't read Postman or Miss Jean Brodie! Sad, eh? I'm pretty sure I have both around here somewhere. You will love Lost Things. Give it a try when you get a chance. :)

    Heatheroo, you're always right!!! I definitely think you should take it to the beach. I'm thinking of re-reading Twilight. Whee!

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  4. Glad you enjoyed the book; it was such a pleasure to read last year for me :)

    Will wait for your thoughts on The Host. I'm not quite keen on reading or getting it just yet.

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  5. I definitely need to reread Twilight. I want to reread all of them before the new one comes out, next month! Ack! I already preordered it!

    I can't wait to hear what you think of The Host!

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  6. I tagged you... come and take a look at my blog... its actually kind of a fun activity!

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  7. Lightheaded, I wasn't in any hurry to get it either, but then the adorable and wonderful Nikki of Keep This on the DL sent it to me. I sat down with it a bit ago, and I've already blown through four chapters! So far, so good!

    Heatheroo, I would say that's a tall order to re-read them before Breaking Dawn comes out, but I forget who I'm talking about. Meyer is such a quick read. I need to re-read them to see if I'm still team Jacob or if I'm gonna rethink that. lol

    Thanks, JRH! I'll post on that tomorrow.

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  8. Thanks for the plug for my contest! In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I've been stalking you for a while now - I used to be active on the Yahoo Group BookCrazy (before it got too out of control for me), and I think once I called you my book twin. (I went by Eli there - it's okay if you don't remember me. *grin*)

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  9. I am really hoping to read this book this year. It has had some great reviews and is just my thing. I love re-tellings and this sounds great as it is not that simple and contains many fairy tale elements. Thanks for the reminder and yay for being in a reading groove. Oh and I look forward to your review of The Host, I am trying to pinch my friends copy.

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  10. Eli!!!! I totally remember you! You were one of my favorites as well, and I always loved hearing what you were reading. I'm so glad I found your blog! I've already bookmarked you, and I'll add you to my blogroll soon! I'm glad you said something. :)

    Rhinoa, I think The Book of Lost Things is something you would LOVE. It really is quite original and delightful. Enjoy!

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  11. I loved the Snow White/Dwarves part! It was hilarious.

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  12. I'm so glad you liked it. I thought you would. I think it was so well done and has so many different layers to it.

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  13. Sounds like a book for one of Susan's classes, eh?

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  14. So many glowing reviews of this one! I'm planning to read it for R.I.P.III. Can't wait!

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  15. "I'm usually not one for "it" books--the pressure of hype is usually too much for me-" I hear you. Fortunately being online and frequent trips to the bookstore usually mean that I have heard about a book and decided whether or not I am interested before the hype machine goes crazy. This is one I purchased before reading almost anything about it (as a gift for a friend) and I do plan to borrow it back one day to read.

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  16. Great review! I've shelved this book many times at work, but haven't taken the time to read the back cover to see what it was about. Your review has convinced me it's one I have to read. I love the Snow White portion you included!

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  17. Dewey, I loved it, too. Probably my favorite part. The creepiest was definitely the huntress. ICK!

    Lisa, it was so very well done. I love layered stories that jump up and surprise me that way.

    Fem, I've already told her about it! lol

    Nat, I think you'll adore it!

    Carl, it's one I certainly think you'll like. It's very original and touching.

    Les, glad you liked that bit! I think you'll enjoy the book. Can't wait to read your thoughts on it when you get around to it!

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  18. I just read this one in May and it might just possibly end up being my favorite of 2008!

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