I’ve been sitting on my review of The Book of Lost Things for a while now, mulling over it, searching for something else like it, and generally stewing. There are many modern novels that reinvent fairy tales for their own purpose, but The Book of Lost Things does it particularly well.
In 1939, when England is at war with Germany, a young boy named David loses his mother. He clings to her memory like a worn blanket, and clutches at the stories they shared together, stories that “come alive in the telling.”
Shortly after his mother dies, David’s books begin to whisper to him, and a man, a frightening, crooked man, begins to beckon him from their pages. David soon begins to black out (possibly spurred by his father’s second marriage and David’s inability to get along with his step-mother), and experiences visions of another world. David’s father sends him to therapy, but David, afraid of being “put away,” is less than forthcoming to his therapist. Following a violent argument with his father and stepmother, David flees to the garden, just as a German bomber falls from the sky. He begins, once more, to hear his mother’s voice whispering to him, begging him to follow and free her. Saddened by the state of his family and the loss of his mother, David follows, and begins his journey through a twisted wonderland driven by the power of stories.
The Book of Lost Things draws strongly on the idea that stories have more power than you could imagine–the act of imagining can create worlds whole and entire. But it’s also a book about growing into adulthood. David is 12 at the beginning of the story, on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. He’s trapped between worlds in more ways than one. As he journeys through this world, he learns many lessons, all of which strip away at his childhood and nudge him toward adulthood. I really liked that David was the master of his own destiny–this is not a book that looks towards prophesies. There is also the underlying idea that the easy choices are not always the right ones, and even the easy bargains carry heavy penalties.
In the end, it’s up to the reader to decipher whether David’s jaunt through this parallel world of make-believe was real, or simply a break from reality. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters: the best stories aren’t real, but that doesn’t make them untrue.
Gorgeously written, highly recommended.