I like fantasy, so when I came across The Book of Lost Things, a modern version of traditional fairy tales that has glowing reviews from various sources, I was keen to read it. Fairy tales are full of bad things happening to people, wicked stepmothers, evil witches, wolves and trolls, fantasy characters, damsels in distress and magic and enchantments, but in the end good overcomes evil and they live happily ever after.
The Book of Lost Things begins at the start of World War Two, with David, a boy of twelve, who is mourning the death of his mother, resenting his father’s new wife, Rose and his new baby brother, George. Alone in his bedroom he hears the books on the shelves murmuring and whispering in the darkness, and his fantasy world becomes peopled with the characters from his books and he dreams of the Crooked Man, waiting for him out in the woods beyond the house.
One night his dreams and nightmares become reality as he sees through a fissure in his room into another realm beyond. He falls unconscious and coming to he hears his mother calling out him to save her, saying she is not dead but trapped in a strange place. He climbs out of his window and then as a bomber crashes in the garden David escapes through the sunken garden into a different world, a world peopled by the characters from the stories he has been reading. Told that the king has a ‘Book of Lost Things’ that will help him find the way back to his own world, he is met with the most terrible and gruesome opposition.
As well as stomach churning and excruciatingly toe-curling grisly detail there are some very dark episodes in this book with an element of moralising within the story from a number of ‘father figures’ David meets, for example the Woodsman and the knight Roland who tells him that life is filled with threats and dangers.
It is indeed filled with danger but the book becomes a sequence of ‘this happened and then that happened’, of showing rather than telling. The writing is flat; there is no sense of suspense, David is attacked and goes on to fight battle after battle as the characters helping him are killed off. There are his battles against the Loups, wolves who dress like men. He has to answer a riddle to choose the right bridge to cross a chasm thronged with harpies. He meets seven dwarves dominated by an obese Snow White, her face caked with white make-up (this story is quite funny actually with its references to communism). He comes across a peasant village terrorised by a monstrous loathsome worm which gives birth in mid-battle. He eventually finds the castle of thorns where his mother may be imprisoned, and then finally the great castle of the ancient and now dying king, the guardian of the ‘book of lost things’. And behind it all is the sinister and evil Crooked Man.
I quite liked the concept of this book, it promised much, but I didn’t like its gruesomeness, the torture chambers, the animal and human experimentations, the sexual innuendos, nor did I like the ending, which I thought was weak. These details didn’t leave me with a chill down my spine, but just feeling rather sick.
Still, it seems an appropriate book to include in the Once Upon a Time Challenge, which ended yesterday and certainly for the Mount To Be Read Challenge as it has sat unread on my shelves for 7 years. Maybe fairy stories are no longer magical for me, this one wasn’t.
I can almost hear the rest of my books muttering, well thank goodness that one’s on its way out of the house.