The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Author: John Connolly
Reader: Steven Crossley
Short Review: A decent book with a major flaw, read beautifully by Steven Crossley. Connolly’s book starts out as a promising depiction of the interior life of a bookish, depressed boy with apparently undiagnosed epilepsy and OCD. Unfortunately, it continues on into an all-too-familiar series of retellings of classic fairytales, several of which villanize women for no clear reason. I expected and hoped for more from the book itself. Thankfully, I truly enjoyed Crossley’s narration, and allowed it to carry me through a book that otherwise left me scratching my head and feeling disappointed and maligned.
Long Review: I’m a true mythology buff, so I’ve read many books that recast fairytales and myths in new lights. Some authors do a wonderful job with such work–Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and T.H. White all come to mind as masters. But many others can’t meet the task and end up producing novels that can’t match the wonder of the original tales or modernize them in interesting, contemporary ways. I think Connolly’s book falls in that later group.
There are some shining moments in the novel. I love David’s wondrous relationship to books, and how that connects him to his mother, arguably the only positive female character in the book. Her explanation of how real stories feel about the inconsequential stories in newspapers is lovely, and will stay with me. The end of the book is also very appealing to me. I love thinking of the adult David continuing to serve books and being a good man, once all is said and done. In general, I think Connolly is a good writer with a good sense of pace and language. I think his take on sibling rivalry is interesting, as is his vision of a child’s relationship to reality, fantasy, and death. While I was listening early on, I enjoyed the book and the narration equally. It was when I was thinking about the book between listenings that I became frustrated.
What truly disappoints me is the misogynist twist Connolly gives most of the tales used in his book. Every major female character other than David’s mother is criticized for her eating habits or weight, sexual choices, appearance, strength, weakness, hunger . . . it’s too much and too common in the book to ignore. Two persistent villains are male, yes, but we expect a werewolf and a Trickster to be villains. I won’t quibble about the child-eating witches who show up in the book as villains, since they were villains in the original forms of the tales. But was it really necessary for Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and all of the other women who show up in the book to be morphed into disgusting, senseless villains? Even Rose, David’s step-mother, is attacked for eating too much and having sex out of wedlock. What is that about? Could Connolly think of no way to retell or change those classic tales without turning all of the female central characters into monsters? Why could none of the kind characters in the book who help David in the other world be female? It really makes me wonder about the author’s views on women. Over and over again, the misogyny forced me out of the story. If Connolly needed to make so many women villains, he should have given more thought to why he needed to do so and addressed that in the book. As it is, the thread seems to reveal more about Connolly than it does about David, and it leaves me loath to bother with the rest of Connolly’s catalog.
As angry as Connolly’s misogyny makes me, I stuck with the book because Crossley’s reading is downright beautiful. I fell for him as a narrator with In The Woods. If anything, his work improves with this novel. His voice is clear and layered, his diction is great, and he voices the different characters distinctly without making too much fuss. I will absolutely seek out more books read by Crossley. I wish we’d set up our review system here at Books For Ears so we review books and readers separately: Crossley gets five stars, Connolly gets 2, max.