Friday, March 27, 2009

[Lisa’s Take] The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly)

Imagine The Wizard of Oz: a young child experiences trauma and gets whisked away to an alternate, magical world inside his brain. Instead of munchkins and scarecrows, mix in a handful of well known fairy tales – the gruesome Brothers Grimm versions, not the squeaky clean Disney kind. Add a dash of philosophical dithering on destiny and growing up, and you pretty much have a solid picture of the plot and themes in The Book of Lost Things.

It’s a really promising premise, and John Connolly delivers a solid book. The plot moves along nicely; his takes on the classic fairy tales are interesting, dark, and sometimes humorous. And yet... I’m having a hard time coming up with the rousing endorsement that you’d think would logically follow. I’m not really sure what the cause of the disconnect is – I just didn’t get as caught up in the plot and characters and stories as I wanted to be.

I suspect there are a couple of contributing factors here – first is that I’ve read Tad Williams Otherland books, which are really the master work in fantasy when it comes to taking existing folk and fairy tales and mashing them up. Once you’ve seen it done so well, it makes later works feel less original; much like trying to go back and read Neuromancer after reading contemporary cyberpunk.

The other problem is that my internal heuristic for when the book would end was thrown off in The Book of Lost Things. You know how when you’re reading a book you get a feeling for the pacing of the end of the story by how many pages you have left? If you have 20 pages left to turn, you figure “wow, the end is really near! Things are going to happen quickly!” but if you have 100 pages left, you think “this can’t be the big climax – I still have chapters and chapters to read!” Unbeknownst to me, The Book of Lost Things had about 100 pages of author interviews, reprintings of the original fairy tales, and discussions of the author’s use of the tales. So as I was nearing the end of the story, I kept thinking I had a hundred pages left, so surely there would be so much more to tell—then I turned the page and it was over and I was confused and disappointed.

Neither of these items is really Mr. Connolly’s fault – only my own preconceptions and expectations coloring my enjoyment of the book. As such, I’ll neither recommend nor discourage you from reading this book. I think it could be enjoyable and entertaining (perhaps even rewarding) to the right reader in the right mindset, and I think it was a good work – just not for me right at this moment.

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