I did not like The Book of Lost Things as much as I thought I would, but perhaps I had set too high expectations for a book that many have raved about. (I expected to fall in love with it. I did not.)
Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.
This is a David’s growing up, coming-of-age story; the story of his adventures through a realm of living fairy-tale characters taken straight out of folklore and mythology. David dwelt in a highly emotional state of grief and sorrow due to family issues – his mother’s recent death and his father’s perfidy resulted in a sense of abandonment, which I sympathise with. However, 100+ angst-filled pages were a tad overwhelming to plod through before the adventures finally grew their metaphorical wings and took off. Not a moment too soon, if you ask me.
The comic relief provided by Snow White’s dwarfs were absolutely hilarious, a light breeze in the dark and gloomy atmosphere permeating the entire tale:
‘Ooooh, Snow White who lives with the dwarfs, eats them out of house and home. They couldn’t even kill her right.’ Oh yes, everybody knows about Snow White.”
“Er, kill her?” asked David.
“Poisoned apple,” said the dwarf. “Didn’t go too well. We underestimated the dose.”
“I thought it was her wicked stepmother who poisoned her,” said David.
“You don’t read the papers,” said the dwarf. “Turned out the wicked stepmother had an alibi.”
“We should really have checked first,” said Brother Number Five. “Seems she was off poisoning someone else at the time. Chance in a million, really. It was just bad luck.”
The interesting thing about the fairy-tale realm, to me, was that it seemed to be David’s own creation based on his interest in the subject. There are two ways to interpret it – firstly, that it was a different dimension that he entered through a wall crack à la Narnia through a wardrobe; or alternatively, it took place entirely in his mind as he hovered in a state of limbo between life and death. It could be either or both, it could be a world of truth or a world of lies - and I find possibilities like that to be fascinating.
For example, the boy Jonathan who disappeared many years ago whose body was never found, and whom purportedly ended up in that fairy-tale realm as its king – this could’ve been his real actual fate and the reason for his disappearance – or it could have been a lie, an explanation supplied by David’s own mind in a world of his own making, because the book also supplied an alternative possibility of what could have happened to Jonathan in the real world, such as we know it, with its hidden crimes and uncaught criminals.
But it is a good book, yes, even if I am not in love with it. You do not have to adore a book to recognise its merits, after all. So if you love fairy-tales and fairy-tale retellings, especially of the dark, dark variety, this book is a must-read.