For an alternative (and more positive review) see Heathpie’s review.
The Book of Lost Things is a quirky fantasy novel concerning David, a young boy growing up in England during World War II. His mother has just passed away from an illness and, much to his dismay, his father begins a relationship with another woman. The speed of the new marriage is encouraged along by a pregnancy, followed shortly thereafter by the birth of David’s infant half-brother.
David consoles himself with his imagination. He was taught by his mother of ‘old stories’ and the power they have. In his new room in his step mother’s villa, he finds many mysterious old books that belonged her great-uncle, who disappeared as a child along with an adopted sister. David isolates himself by the rest of the family, doing his best to drive the step-mother away, in the hopes that his father will give this new family up.
As a bomber plane crash-lands in his garden, David is drawn to the crash site by the sound of his mother’s voice. Crawling through a tree, he finds himself in an alternate universe, where magic and fairytales appear to be true. He embarks upon a quest to find his mother and get back home, so they can be a complete family again.
Connolly combs through Grimm’s Fairy Tales, cherry picking different stories for his own unique treatment, though they do remain very grim indeed. You’ll find everything from bestiality to cannibalism, with a dash of class consciousness for good measure. Likely because David is working through his negative feelings towards his stepmothers, these stories almost universally feature appalling female villains – for instance, a gargantuan Snow White and a chilling huntress that only Doctor Moreau could love.
This is where the book fails for me. It’s as if the author can’t make up his mind whether or not this is supposed to truly be a book for adults or children. The graphicness of the fairy tales makes it clear it isn’t really suitable for young adults. But the rest of the book is written with a glossy sort of charm that suits that sect of readers more than adults. The cadre of evil female characters is more than a bit literal and heavy handed, something I’d expect less of in adult fiction. It’s clearly a coming of age story and the development of David is plainly there to see, yet the author still feels the need to whack the reader over the head with it. That’s something I’d expect in a YA novel, not in one geared towards adults. This indecision in its focus left me feeling rather ‘meh’ about the whole thing.