“Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.”
Dealing with loss is difficult for anyone, but when David’s father remarries and has another child, David begins to feel more and more shut out of his own life. Stalked by a ghostlike man, surrounded by books that begin to whisper their secrets, his reality begins to shift and he begins to hear his mother calling him from somewhere beyond this world. One night David follows her voice, eager to bring her home – after all, death may only be an illusion and if he can find her in time the spell may break. But his new world is treacherous and the truth he seeks may be too difficult to face.
Equal parts unnerving, sinister and beautiful, this dark tale captures the magic of traditional fairytales while turning them on their heads. Archetypal characters and twisted re-tellings are woven throughout the narrative as David makes his way through a nightmare world that may or may not exist only in his mind.
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly, is technically a children’s book, but I would suggest reading it before giving it – or reading it aloud – to a younger audience, as some parts may be too terrifying for certain children. I would have had nightmares if I’d read this when I was little – and I know that I would have been desperate to read it anyway, and loved every minute of reading, very likely sneaking it off bookshelves when no grown-up was looking. The entrancing fairytale nature of the story takes more inspiration from the Grimm brothers than any softened Disney adaptations. These are the kind of stories where the wicked witch is made to dance herself to death in red-hot shoes, where the good may die early and the wicked are punished with pain, and kindness and bravery is tested but ultimately rewarded. Much like in the original fairytales, Conolly is able to explore difficult topics through a metaphorical quest. Life, death, loss – even more “contemporary” discussions of class and gender are opened for questioning through dexterous narrative twists. Snow White’s dwarves are grumbling unionists, and the knight seeks to rescue his beloved prince from a thorn-covered tower.
As the boundaries between fantasy and reality break down, Conolly’s story takes on a life of its own and challenges the perception that what goes on in your mind doesn’t actually exist. To quote J.K Rowling’s beloved Dumbledore: “Of course it is happening inside your head… but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”