Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The Book of Lost Things
The Book of Lost Things is about a boy named David. His mother loves books and teaches him to love books and stories before she dies. She talk to him about the importance of stories and books, how being read gives life to stories. After his mother dies, David starts hearing books talk...
"The walls (of the psychiatrist's office) were lined with books, although they were not books like the ones David read. David thought that he could hear the books talking among themselves when he arrived. He couldn't understand most of what they were saying, but they spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, as if what they had to impart was very important or the person to whom they were speaking was very stupid. Some of the books appeared to be arguing among themselves in blah-blah-blah tones, the way experts sometimes talked on the wireless when they were addressing one another, surrounded by other experts whom they were trying to impress with their intelligence."
David prefers stories of mythology and fairy tales, and when he and his father move into his step-mother, Rose's house, David loses himself in the stories to help him forget the death of his mother.
In a classic hero's journey (described well in Christopher Vogler's The Writers' Journey), David finds himself in a magic land, meets friends and helpers, encounters difficulties and tricksters, discovers unknown strength within himself, and goes home again, seeing the old place with new, more mature eyes.
The Book of Lost Things is about David's coming-of-age, as well as his dealing with grief and loss, and Connolly uses familiar stories within David's story as his vehicle. Connolly does take some artistic license with the stories, which I found delightful. Red Riding Hood makes an appearance, as do Hansel and Gretel, and Goldilocks (briefly! oh dear...). Snow White and the Seven Dwarves feature as well, none of them quite as we've imagined all these years, the dwarves being communists and Snow White being, well, not very nice...
"'Anyway, so he bounces in on his white horse like a big perfumed tea cozy, getting involved in affairs that are none of his business, and next thingy ou know she wakes up and - oooh! - was she in a bad mood. The prince didn't half get an earful, and that was after she clocked him one first for 'taking liberties.' Five minutes of listening to that and, instead of marrying her, the prince gets back on his horse and rides off into the sunset. Never saw him again. We blamed the local wicked stepmother for the whole apple business, but well, if there's a lesson to be learned from all this, it's to make sure that the person you're going to wrongfully blame for doing something bad is actually available for selection, as it were. There was a trial, we got suspended sentences on the grounds of provocation combined with lack of sufficient evidence, and we were told that if anything ever happened to Snow White again, if she even chipped a nail, we'd be for it.'
"Comrade Brother Number One did an impression of choking on a noose, just in case David didn't understand what 'it' meant.
"'Oh,', said David. 'But that's not the story I heard.'
"'Story!' The dwarf snorted. 'You'll be talking about 'happily ever after' next. Do we look happy? There's no happily ever after for us. Miserably ever after, more like.'"
I really enjoyed this book, yes, David's growth and development, but mostly how Connolly used familiar stories and characters to tell David's story.
The story ended rather before I expected, as at the end of the book, there is a description of why he chose each story, the story's origins, as well as retelling the story in its original form, which all takes up close to 100 pages.
"...he would talk to them of stories and books, and explain to them how stories wanted to be told and books wanted to be read, and how everything that they ever needed to know about life and the land of which he wrote, or about any land or realm that they could imagine was contained in books.
"And some of the children understood, and some did not."
Perhaps if you choose to read this book, you are one of the ones who understand the magic of books and stories.