Oct 4, 2007

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things is the story of David, a boy whose mother passes away. David was very close to his mother (she had been the one to introduce him to his greatest passion, reading), and naturally he has a hard time dealing with her loss. Matters are made worse when, about one year after her death, his father remarries, and his new wife, Rose, becomes pregnant. David not only loses his mother, but also has to share his father with a new family, a situation that wounds him deeply. As World War II becomes a bigger and bigger threat, the family moves to a large mansion that has been in Rose’s family for generations. The strange things that had begun to happen to David after his mother’s death get worse and worse: David can hear books whispering to him. He has strange fits that cause him to faint, and during which he feels as though he’s been transported to another world. He begins to see a strange-looking man in his house. One night, as German bombs fall near his house, he thinks he hears his mother’s voice, and by following it he enters another world – a world in which “everything you can imagine is real”.

The Book of Lost Things is pretty much everything I ask for in a book. It is emotional, fantastic and engaging. It is adventurous, but it’s also very personal. It’s a book in the tradition of some of my very favourite works – in some ways, it reminded me of Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, although David encounters a world far darker than the one Bastian found.

Indeed, the world David enters is based on the fairy tales he so loves to read, and it follows the story-logic of a fairy tale – but these are the darker, older versions of the tales, which are not the ones most of us grow up with these days. Throughout the story, David finds a number of characters that tell him stories, and these are fairy tales with a further twist. I absolutely love the story-within-a-story strategy, especially when it’s used well, like in this case. The tales David is told are actually relevant to the main storyline, in ways that become more and more obvious as we read on.

Because this world follows fairy tale logic, one can sometimes predict what will happen next, but, like in fairy tales, that actually adds to the enjoyment of the story, instead of taking the suspense away.

The tone of the book is dark and eerie, but there are also humorous moments, like when David meets the Seven Dwarves of Snow White fame. The whole sequence will undoubtedly not fail to make nearly everyone laugh out loud.

My edition of the book contains almost 200 pages worth of extras – an interview with John Connolly about the book, the original versions of the fairy tales that inspired The Book of Lost Things, and a little introduction before each tale in which the author explains why he chose to draw from that story in particular. These were absolutely fascinating to read, and for once I am very glad I got a book in paperback and not hardcover.

In the interview at the end of the book, John Connolly says,
I think that it’s a book about childhood, or more specifically that period or moment when a child becomes very aware of the reality of the world in which he lives: that is difficult, that it owes no debts to the souls that inhabit it, that it is likely to be filled with a certain amount of pain and loss, and that, ultimately, human beings are powerless against the force of mortality.
I think that this quote summarizes the very core of the book. The Book of Lost Things is a book I wish I’d written myself, and although there are many books I love, there aren’t many that make me feel this way. It uses fairy tales, my favourite kind of story, to express emotional issues that are relevant for every human being. It is a sad story, but ultimately a hopeful and uplifting one: it shows us how precious life is, despite the grief and loss and powerlessness we are bond to experience at certain times.

This is a book that will appeal to lovers of fairy tales, of coming-of-age stories, and also, simply, of books. It is very much a book lover’s book, and David’s passion for reading is something most of us will easily relate to. I will leave you with another John Connolly quote, also from the interview:
I think the act of reading imbues the reader with a sensitivity towards the outside world that people who don’t read can sometimes lack. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms; after all, reading is such a solitary act that it appears to represent a disengagement from day-to-day life. But reading, and in particular the reading of fiction, encourages us to view the world in new and challenging ways (…). It allows us to inhabit the consciousness of another, which is a precursor of empathy, and empathy is, for me, one of the marks of a decent human being.
Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
A Garden Carried in the Pocket
Read Warbler
A Stripped Armchair
The Written Word
A High and Hidden Place
Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Melody's Reading Corner
Everyday Reads
Tripping Towards Lucidity
Fuzzy Cricket
Valentina's Room
Some Reads
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Blue Archipelago
Dreaming Out Loud
Books of Mee
A Fondness for Reading


  1. I'm going to have to go out and buy the paperback version now for all of the extras! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I know exactly what you mean by wishing it was a book that you'd written. It's a perfect book. Quite beautiful and it tells a tale that any reader can enjoy. I love the last Connolly quote! People often call us readers recluses, but reading really does open up a person to be more of a social human being in my opinion. It does allow one to gain a greater degree of empathy. Perfect review :)

  2. This is the second review in a couple of days that I've read that makes me really really really want to read this book. It sounds uterlly fabulous. :)

    Thanks for such a great review Nymeth!

  3. I really want to read this. I considered it for my birthday, but I couldn't have everything! I likely will buy it next time.

  4. This is really a good book, glad you enjoyed it. I don't think I've read a review where whoever read it didn't like it! It's surely a book to be kept for the "to be REread pile!"

  5. Oh, thank you Nymeth! Annie and I are planning on "doing a unit" on fairy tales this winter. We'll be reading Grimms Fairy Tales, and I thought we'd read Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl after reading the original fairy tale. And I was thinking of possibly reading The Princess Bride. This book sounds like it would the absolute PERFECT way to wind things up! Sounds like a fantastic book! If you have any other suggestions, I'd be greatly appreciative!

  6. I couldn't wait to read this before looking at your review but now I have to go and find my copy (yeah good luck...). I hope I have the same one as you with the extra bits, if not I will have to track one down for definite as I want to read the original tales and interview. Sounds just my kind of book thanks.

  7. Great review. I had to run check my version to see if it had the extras. Alas . . . Oh well, I'm very excited now to get to it.

  8. I've heard this book mentioned a few places but your review is making me add it to my 'hope to buy it soon' list! :)
    The extras sound very fun too. Is that the UK paperback edition?

  9. I sooo have to read this one soon!!I have it on the pile, but unfortunately is the Trade Paperback edition, which I got free so I shouldn't complain:)

  10. I read this one for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge and really enjoyed it. Glad you enjoyed it as well!

  11. I've been meaning to read this and now I just really need to get to it!

  12. Chris: Thank you :) The extras are very much worth having. They are fascinating to read, and they show that John Connolly knows a lot about fairy tales, which gives me hope that he will write more things in this vein in the future.

    Court: I have yet to find a single negative review of this book, actually. I think this one is hard not to love. There is something in it for everyone.

    Kailana: Do get it soon, I think you'd really like it. Happy belated birthday by the way :)

    DesLily: Same here - I can't think of anyone who didn't like it. And yes, this is a book I can see myself revisiting in the future.

    Debi: This book would be perfect for a fairy tales united, especially to go along with Grimms Fairy Tales, because the story draws on so many of them. I have not yet read "The Goose Girl", but I keep hearing wonders about it. I'm sure it's a good choice. As for "The Princess Bride", I'm not sure I would pick it even though I love it. It's that the story is fairy tale-ish in structure, but it isn't actually inspired by or similar to any traditional fairy tales. Are you familiar with the SurLaLune Fairy Tales website? It's full of material that would be useful for you and Annie. Also, Eddincot Studio has a great list of fairy-tale related books.

    Rhinoa: I really think this is just your kind of book. Do try and find the version with the extras, it is very much worth reading.

    Framed: It's too bad yours doesn't have them... but perhaps you can find a library copy that does? Either way, just the story in itself is absolutely wonderful.

    Tanabata: Yes, it's the UK paperback. I think all versions of the paperback edition have the extra material, but I'm not completely sure.

    Valentina: Yeah, I wouldn't complain either if it'd been for free :P The story alone is more than worth it, but perhaps you can find a library copy with the extras.

    Jenclair: I think this is a book that is difficult not to love. So far everyone who reads it seems to fall in love with it, and now I understand why.

    Nicola: You definitely need to!

  13. I like fairy tale books. So a must read for me!

  14. Sounds good! Great review. I'll add it to the queue.

  15. Thanks Nymeth. I found my copy and luckily it has all the extras at the back woo! Got a few things to read first, but it has moved to my TBR pile.

  16. I'm reading this one right now!! From page one, I was captivated by the beautiful language!! I love it so far!

  17. What a lovely-sounding tale. Straight onto my far-too-long wishlist it goes. =}

  18. This is already on my wishlist, and you make me glad it is!

  19. Seems like a great story. I will go for it. Thanks!

  20. This sounds like a fantastic book. I'm adding it to my TBR right now. (and seeking for the one with extras)

  21. I read your post again now that I've read this book, and I'm so envious of the extra material in your edition! Thanks for posting quotes from the interview, though! At least I get that much extra. ;)

  22. wow, what's up with all the comments I didn't respond to in this post? I must have been busy at the time.

    Dewey, yeah, the extras were great. Maybe you'll be able to find an edition with them at the library or something. They are definitely worth reading.

    To everyone else, my belated apologies for not having responded!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.