The Book of Lost Things is one of those otherworld bildungsroman stories I love, and I suppose it was inevitable that someone reclaim the lurid and ghThe Book of Lost Things is one of those otherworld bildungsroman stories I love, and I suppose it was inevitable that someone reclaim the lurid and ghastly fairytales for that purpose. It’s just as well the dark stories shape the world our bildungsromaner traipses around in -- in a genre including the Juniper Tree, I'm kind of amazed it took this long! Blame Disneyfication of fairytales, I guess.
So the thing about this book is that it's incredibly deliberate: deliberate about its fractured fairytales, deliberate about the way it wants to turn your head to horrors, deliberate about its high authorial voice, which tells rather than shows for the most part. There’s a strong formality to the way the symbolism unveils itself, as though a showman steps in front of the audience, bows, and pulls back the curtain on the metaphors.
I mean, if you start a story with “a kid dealing with his mom’s death in the midst of World War II goes to a story-world,” we’re not surprised at what we’ll find there. And when that boy is dealing with alienation from his father and keeps stumbling into father figures, well.
I do appreciate the seriousness with which this book takes itself, and I think that as a choice it works for a story-about-stories. In particular where atmosphere is concerned, it works. The freedom of that high authorial voice, the let-me-tell-you-a-tale fairytale voice, is omniscience, and a lot of liberty to tell you exactly what's going. This allows Connelly to go to town with his descriptions, and he can really, really rise to the occasion. The passage describing the Crooked Man’s lair is a special standout-- long and baroque, but satisfying in the way it methodically lists his grislinesses.
Where it doesn’t work is that the fairytales feel as though they’re given the standard dark twist. None of these figures had much independent life for me. And while Connelly acknowledges this -- the Crooked Man is a very explicit amalgam of the worst tricksters around-- this makes the story feel as though it’s made up of echoes. I love conscious use of archetypes, but I feel they must have a sense of their own originality. Contrast, for instance, the Crooked Man with the Pale Man of Pan’s Labyrinth, another dark bildungsroman of sorts. The Pale Man was an equally archetypal character with clear symbolic value to the narrative, but in his specificity I found him far more terrifying -- the Crooked Man could be relied upon to do whatever dirty work the narrative needs doing, and to die at the end; whereas the Pale Man had his white-aged skin, and his eyeball-hands, and his decadent feast -- as a new monster, he maintained a sense of threat that the Crooked Man never held onto, owing to the Crooked Man's clear place as David's catalyst.
Still, for all its heavyhandedness, I enjoyed this book and I feel it has something to contribute to the genre. ...more