Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 14, 2009

The Book of Lost Things (2006), by John Connolly

the-book-of-lost-thingsThis strange book is a sort of parable, rather clumsily executed.  A boy, David, has lost his mother to illness, and he has difficulty adjusting to his father’s new life, his stepmother Rose, and their infant son, Georgie.  His jealousy and fear of being ‘replaced’ is compounded by the horrors of World War II: bombs falling on London and the fear of annihilation by the Nazis.


David begins to take fits and see visions and though his worried father takes him to a psychiatrist, nothing is resolved and his sulky resentment grows.  He hears books talking in his room, and from the garden he one day sees a ‘Crooked Man’ there.  He learns from Rose  that he sleeps in a room once belonging to a mysterious uncle of hers, Jonathan Tulvey, who vanished with his eight-year-old sister, never to be seen again.  It is Jonathan’s books which talk most alarmingly.

When one day a bomber crash-lands in the garden, reality collides with the imaginary world, David entering it through a tree, just as the children enter into Narnia through a wardrobe.  It is a nightmare world of wolves and loups (half man, half wolf); of trolls, dwarves and harpies; and malevolent ravens.  He meets a kindly Woodsman who warns him against the treachery of the Crooked Man, and tells him stories, all more gruesome versions of fairy tales that we recognise.  This Woodsman, like a father, cannot protect him from everything, only guide him and advise him as his courage and integrity is tested in one travail after another.

I did not like the episode where his emerging sexuality is explored through his friendship with the knight, Childe Roland.  Roland seeks to discover what has happened to his dear friend Raphael, and ultimately their love is shown to be a pure and noble thing so David need not fear seduction.  But there is a nasty scene where David’s fear of this ‘love that dare not speak its name’ makes him shudder in revulsion at Roland’s caring touch.  Afterwards David is sorry that he has misunderstood and hurt Roland in this way and they are eventually reconciled, but why was the revuslion necessary to this story?  Do boys anxiously confronting the prospect that they might be homosexual really need this kind of rejection so clearly signalled?

Like The Book Thief, this tale is one that may be suitable for young adult readers, but not children.  The characters from David’s nightmares are eerie and violent, but more importantly the story would make little sense to children under the age of about twelve.  The resolution when it comes is no happy-ever-after, for David’s life is one of ongoing loss, and the resurrection at the end is not wholly convincing.

I probably wouldn’t read this author again.  He usually writes mystery/horror stories, and this one with its overt religious agenda is only mildly engaging.


  1. I bought this ages ago on a whim and still haven’t read it yet. I hope I like it better than you did, although who knows when I’ll read it.


  2. It’s very popular on Library Thing – so maybe I’m being a bit hard on it!


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