"Once upon a time, there was a boy who lost his mother..." As twelve-year-old David takes refuge from his grief in the myths and fairytales so beloved of his dead mother, he finds the real world and the fantasy world start to blend. That is when bad things start to happen. That is when the Crooked Man comes. And David is propelled into a land populated by heroes, wolves and monsters and his quest to find the legendary Book of Lost Things.
What I would say:
The beginning of this book is incredibly moving and very reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon. David tries to help his mother's fight against cancer by performing "rituals" that he hopes will save her - if everything he does is in even numbers, his mother will be fine and that's that. The child's perspective is exceptionally poignant and an incredible start to the book.
After his father remarries and he and his new wife have another son, David resents his new family and seeks solace in his attic bedroom with the books that whisper to him, begging for their stories to be told. When a German bomber plane crashes into his garden, David jumps through a hole and lands in a fairytale world.
Now, when I hear 'fairytale' I think Disney. Disney this book is not. Think more the Brothers Grimm and you're there! Snow White has succumbed to morbid obesity and Prince Charming didn't stick around with the communist dwarves, Red Riding Hood had an affair with a wolf to produce some just lovely wolf-human half breeds and the trolls are sharing their bridge with harpies.
Oddly though, despite all the gore (of which there is plenty), it is like a coming-of-age fairytale and David faces foes very familiar to him (and the reader) from the stories he loved. David is a fantastic character and the development from child to adult left me feeling very involved in the story. The range of supporting characters make the book and it feels genuinely magical. It can be harrowing but that only makes the release of tension all the better and I swear, at times, physical.
John Connolly is best known as a crime writer and, being a self-confessed pansy in that department, so this was my first experience of his writing and I was very pleasantly surprised! The version of this book that I read had an interview with Connolly after the story in which he said, "I've written the best book that I could possibly write, being the person and writer that I am". And it is one remarkable book!
Overall: This novel is fantastically unique - I would recommend it to someone looking for a dark twist on old favourites but with a health warning - there is violence and there is gore and it definitely isn't suitable for the younger readers out there!