Like many of the children in the fairy tales he adores, twelve-year-old David has lost everything. His beloved mother has died; his father has married Rose, a nurse from the hospital where his mother stayed during her illness, and started a new family. To escape the German bombs, they’ve moved out of London to the house where Rose grew up, and David is installed in the attic room.
Filled with books from a previous occupant, David’s aerie appears to be part of the woods surrounding the house. Ivy has worked its way through the mortar and is spreading over the interior walls. Bugs are at home in his sock drawer, and spiders have taken over many of the room’s dark corners. Nature’s invasion is the least of his worries; David’s books have started talking, and he is having attacks that leave him with peculiar memories of wolves and faded kings. After a particularly nasty row with Rose, David hears his mother’s voice begging him to rescue her, and he follows the call into the darkness.
John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things is the quintessential outsider tale. David has entered an unknown world when his father remarries and the family moves to a new home to escape the bombing of London. The move, close on the heels of the birth of Georgie, has David uncertain of his role within this new family group.
In typical fairy-tale manner, the outsider embarks on a quest during which he endeavors to seek what has been lost. David hears his mother’s voice pleading with him to save her, providing him the opportunity to become a hero and leave behind the family he believes has no use for him.
Readers will find many familiar faces within the pages of The Book of Lost Things; however, that sense of familiarity will not last. In Connolly’s world, the forest holds cruel things that will include a lost child in a genetic experiment before eating them. Snow White didn’t ride off with her prince, and very few people live happily ever after.
Of course, what David is really seeking in the forest is himself. As divergent as Connolly’s book is from childish fairy tales, that morale centrer is still present. David finds his inner strength and place within his family as he moves into adolescence. This is the expected outcome, but the true ingenuity and magic in this adult tale is how Connolly reaches that ending.
Connolly has reinterpreted traditional tales, found the dark, secret core, and created something fresh, new and exciting. By placing it during World War II, a time when childhood meant a gray world full of evil and very real horrors, the terrors of Connolly’s world loom in even starker contrast.
The Book of Lost Things marks a new direction in Connelly’s writing. If this reviewer’s experience is anything to go by, readers will be unable to set this book aside until David returns safely home.