Posts Tagged ‘John Connolly’

I read John Connolly’s ‘The Gates’ earlier this year and loved it. I wanted to read more of his books. Some of my blog-friends recommended Connolly’s ‘The Book of Lost Things’. Then my wonderful friend and fellow book blogger Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’ gifted me ‘The Book of Lost Things’ (Thanks Bina!). I started reading it a few days back and did a readathon and finished it yesterday. Here is what I think.



What I think


‘The Book of Lost Things’ is about a boy called David who has recently lost his mother and is struggling to cope with the loss. It is a time when the Second World War has started and everyone’s normal life is threatened and things are uncertain. David’s father works with the British government in an Alan Turingsque kind of role – helping to decode the secret messages sent by the Germans. One day, David’s father introduces him to a beautiful woman called Rose and says that she is a friend. David discovers that Rose is more than a friend and she is on her way to becoming his step mother. David resents this and retreats into himself and his world of books and fairytales. Soon David’s father marries Rose and David’s worst fears and suspicions come true. David soon has a step-brother called Georgie. David resents the attention and affection that Rose and Georgie get from his father. The situation at home becomes strained. One day, in the night, David hears his mother’s voice from outside his room. He follows it and reaches a mysterious sunk garden. He enters it. At that precise moment a German plane crashes nearby. David hides inside an oak tree. And before he knows it David steps into another world – a world populated by good and evil people, strange beings and beasts, where he makes wonderful friends and where wicked enemies chase him. Is David able to find his mother there? How does David guard himself against the dangers in this strange world? Is David able to come back to the real world? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.


I loved ‘The Book of Lost Things’. It is about the big changes that can unexpectedly happen in a young person’s life and how the young person copes with it. It is also a story of confronting one’s fears, of identifying the roots of one’s feelings and managing them. It is also a coming-of-age story. One of the things I like about this book is the way Connolly takes all popular fairy tales – like Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty and others – and interprets them in his own way and weaves them seamlessly into the story. Some of his interpretations are quite interesting and hilarious. These fairytales seem so different when we read them separately, but when we read this book, they flow smoothly like different episodes in the book. I think that is no mean feat. There is also a 150-page appendix at the end of the book, which describes the origins of the important fairy tales covered in the book and how they evolved as well as the most popular version of each fairy tale. It is surprising to read how some of the fairytales have evolved (for example Goldilocks was originally a little old woman). It is a wonderful section, which I will keep coming back to, again and again. I had just one problem with the book. Rumplestiltskin (or the character representing him) comes across as a black-hearted villain in the story, while in the actual fairytale he is actually not-so-bad and from some perspectives he has some good elements to his personality. I also didn’t like the loups – the creatures who are a cross between human beings and wolves – much. The ending of the book is open-ended and makes the reader think whether all the adventures that David had were real or they were fantasies existing only in his mind. There seem to be evidence pointing to both interpretations and the reader is left to arrive at his / her own conclusion. My favourite part of the book was the initial part where David grieves the loss of his mother and reacts unpleasantly to his step-mother (eventhough she is nice and kind) and the part where he has adventures with the Woodsman and the knight, Roland. But I have to say that I loved the book overall. There is an interview with Connolly at the end of the book, where he talks about reading. I loved that passage. Here is what he said.


I think the act of reading imbues the reader with a sensitivity towards the outside world that people who don’t read can sometimes lack. I know it seems like a contradiction in terms; after all, reading is such a solitary act that it appears to represent a disengagement from day-to-day life. But reading, and particularly the reading of fiction, encourages us to view the world in new and challenging ways. I have always believed that fiction acts as a prism, taking the reality of our existence and breaking it down into its constituent parts, allowing us to see them in a completely different form. It allows us to inhabit the consciousness of another, which is a precursor to empathy, and empathy is, for me, one of the marks of a decent human being.


Favourite Passages


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


On Stories


      Before she became ill, David’s mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren’t alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs and cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren’t paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn’t exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.

      Stories were different, though : they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by torch light beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.


On Routines


      The boy, whose name was David, did everything that he could to keep his mother alive. He prayed. He tried to be good, so that she would not be punished for his mistakes. He padded around the house as quietly as he was able, and kept his voice down when he was playing war games with his toy soldiers. He created a routine, and he tried to keep to that routine as closely as possible, because he believed in part that his mother’s fate was linked to the actions he performed. He would always get out of bed by putting his left foot on the floor first, then his right. He always counted up to twenty when he was brushing his teeth, and he always stopped when the count was completed. He always touched the taps in the bathroom and the handles of the doors a certain number of times : odd numbers were bad but even numbers were fine, with two, four and eight being particularly favourable, although he didn’t care for six because six was twice three and three was the second part of thirteen, and thirteen was very bad indeed.




      After they had eaten, David washed his face and hands in a bowl and tried to clean his teeth with his finger. When he had finished, he performed his little rituals of touching and counting, and it was only when he became aware of a silence in the room that he realised the Woodsman was watching him quietly from his chair.

      ‘What are you doing?’ asked the Woodsman.

      It was the first time that the question had ever been posed to David, and he was stumped for a moment as he tried to provide a plausible excuse for his behaviour. In the end, he settled on the truth.

      ‘They’re rules,’ he said simply. ‘They’re my routines. I started doing them to try to keep my mother from harm. I thought that they would help.’

      ‘And did they?’

      David shook his head.

      ‘No, I don’t think so. Or maybe they did, but just not enough. I suppose you think they’re strange. I suppose you think I’m strange for doing them.’

      He was afraid to look at the Woodsman, fearful of what he might see in the man’s eyes. Instead he stared into the bowl and saw his reflection distort upon the water.

      Eventually the Woodsman spoke. ‘We all have our routines,’ he said softly. ‘But they must have a purpose and provide an outcome that we can see and take some comfort from, or else they have no use at all. Without that, they are like the endless pacings of a caged animal. If they are not madness itself, then they are a prelude to it.’

      The Woodsman stood and showed David his axe.

      ‘See here,’ he said, pointing with his finger at the blade. ‘Every morning, I make certain that my axe is clean and keen. I look at my house and check that its windows and doors remain secure. I tend to my land, disposing of weeds and ensuring that the soil is watered. I walk through the forest, clearing those paths that need to be kept open. Where trees have been damaged, I do my best to repair what has been harmed. These are my routines, and I enjoy doing them well.’

      He laid a hand gently on David’s shoulder, and David saw understanding in his face. ‘Rules and routines are good, but they must give you satisfaction. Can you truly say you gain that from touching and counting?’

      David shook his head. ‘No,’ he said, ‘but I get scared when I don’t do them. I’m afraid of what might happen.’

      ‘Then find routines that allow you to feel secure when they are done. You told me that you have a new brother : look to him each morning. Look to your father, and your stepmother. Tend to the flowers in the garden, or in the pots upon the window sill. Seek others who are weaker than you are, and try to give them comfort where you can. Let these be your routines, and the rules that govern your life.’


Other Reviews


Here are links to other reviews of this book.


Nymeth’s Review


Bellezza’s Review


Eva’s Review


Have you read ‘The Book of Lost Things’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘The Gates’ by John Connolly during a bookstore browsing session last week. I wanted to put it back on the shelf, but the description of the book on the back cover and the first page of the book grabbed my attention and refused to let me go. I finished reading it recently (I like the fact that in recent times, I am reading books as soon as I get them J). Here is what I think.



What I think


Samuel Johnson is a young boy who lives in the village of Biddlecombe with his single mother and his dog called James Boswell. When Samuel Johnson tries to go ‘trick-and-treating’ in advance, one day before Halloween, to the place of his neighbour, the Abernathys, he discovers that the Abernathys and their friends the Renfields are in the middle of strange ritual in their basement. At the same time something strange happens in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which is running in Switzerland. Stranger things happen at the Abernathys’ basement, where there is an explosion and some strange creatures come out of a bluish flame in the middle of the basement and take over the bodies of the Abernathys and the Renfields. Johnson later learns that the Abernathys and their friends were trying to perform an ancient ritual to open the gates of Hell. Johnson speeds off to home after this incident, but not before the creature which inhabits Mrs.Abernathy has seen him. She makes him realize that in subsequent meetings and Johnson knows that he is in danger. Meanwhile by accident, the demon Nurd, who has been banished to a remote part of Hell by the Devil himself, is mysteriously transported across dimensions and ends up in the real world and meets Samuel. For a first encounter between a demon and a human boy, the meeting goes off quite well and Nurd seems to enjoy the little pleasures of the world and the company of humans, while Johnson finds that demons could be pleasant and fun too. Soon Johnson enlists the help of his friends Maria and Tom to fight the creatures in the Abernathys’ basement. Strange things start happening in the village of Biddlecombe and strange creatures start coming out of the house of the Abernathys and create havoc. How Johnson and his friends and his dog Boswell and how the scientists in CERN tackle this and the role the demon Nurd plays in this and whether the devil is actually able to open the gates of Hell and get to earth form the rest of the story.


I loved ‘The Gates’. It has a combination of fantasy, science, mythology and is fast-paced. There is wonderful humour in every page and in the first half of the story, there are footnotes in atleast every alternate page. Sometimes the footnotes add explanations to some aspect of the story or to the science, literature, language part of it. At other times the footnotes are humorous entries which make one laugh out loud. I liked most of the main characters – Samuel Johnson, his dog James Boswell, his friends Maria and Tom – but my most favourite character in the story was the demon Nurd. Nurd was cool, liked having fun, enjoyed new experiences like having wine gums or driving fast cars and generally added a spark to the story. He also played an important role in the climax. This book reminded me of ‘The Amulet of Samarkhand’ by Jonathan Stroud, because of its humour and because one of its main characters is a demon (‘The Amulet of Samarkhand’ had a djinn as one of the main characters).


The subtitle of the book read ‘Samuel Johnson Versus The Devil : Round 1’. I heard that the second book of the series is also out. I cannot wait to read that next and find out what happens in Round 2. Having read a few Irish authors – Eoin Colfer, Erskine Childers, John Banville and little bits of Seamus Heaney, Cecilia Ahern, John McGahern – and now John Connolly, I have to say that Irish literature rocks! I also read in Wikipedia that John Connolly also writes crime novels. If ‘The Gates’ is anything to go by, I think his crime novels would be fun too. I want to explore them sometime. 




I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.


This is one of my favourite footnotes.


The Divine Comedy is not funny, but it’s not supposed to be, despite its name. In Dante’s time, a comedy meant a work that reflected a belief in an ordered universe. Also, serious books were written in Latin, and Dante wrote in a new language : Italian. Some of Shakespeare’s comedies are funny, though, but not if you’re being forced to study them in school. In school, everything Shakespeare wrote starts to seem like a tragedy, even the ones that aren’t tragedies, which is a bit unfortunate, but that’s just because of the way they’re taught. Stick with them. In later life, people will be impressed that you can quote Shakespeare, and you will sound very intelligent. It’s harder to quote trigonometry, or quadratic equations, and not half as romantic.


Here are some of my favourite passages on Nurd, the demon.


      Samuel had a good instinct for people. He could tell a good person from a bad one, often before the person in question had even spoken. Although his experience of demons was rather more limited, something told him that if Nurd wasn’t exactly good – and, being a demon, it was hardly part of the job description (‘Wanted : demon. Must be good…’) – he was not entirely bad either. Like most ordinary people, he was just himself.


      ‘You’re not going to hurt me, are you?’ asked Samuel.

      Nurd looked shocked. ‘Why should I do that?’

      ‘Because you’re a demon.’

      ‘Just because I’m a demon doesn’t mean that I’m bad,’ said Nurd. A piece of wine gum had stuck to his teeth, and he worked at it with a long fingernail. ‘I didn’t ask to be a demon. It just happened that way. I opened my eyes one day, and there I was. Nurd. Ugly bloke. No friends. Even other demons don’t care much for my company.’

      ‘Why? You seem all right to me.’

      ‘I suppose that’s it, really. I’ve never been very demonic. I don’t want to torture, or wreak havoc. I don’t want to be frightening, or terrible. I just want to potter along, minding my own business. But they told me I had to do something destructive or I’d be in trouble, so I tried to find a role that wouldn’t attract too much attention, or cause a lot of bother to people, but all those jobs were taken…’


      And Nurd, who had never had a mother and father, and who had never loved or been loved, marvelled at the ways in which feeling so wonderful could also leave one open to so much pain. In a strange way, he envied Samuel even that. He wanted to care about someone so much that it could hurt.


Have you read ‘The Gates’? What do you think about it?

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