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Author Topic: "The Book Of Lost Things" by John Connolly  (Read 22817 times)
Mark
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« on: April 25, 2007 »

Welcome to April's BTZBC discussion...

John Connolly is of course well known for his much acclaimed and best-selling series of Charlie Parker novels as well as the standalone novel "Bad Men" and "Nocturnes", a short story collection. "The Book Of Lost Things" is something else. At the launch party for this book, John made a speech in which he talked about the worry that he had written a 300 page career suicide note. John was, of course, being typically self-deprecating and mischievous, but I think there was a nugget of anxiety about how people would react to a book that was so different to anything he had written before. Of course, he need not have worried.

I don't want to say too much about my own feelings about this book - not that members of the Book Club would be influenced by anything I might say - but I will just say that I finished it, somewhere above the Atlantic, with tears streaming down my face, and I cannot remember the last time I was so emotionally sideswiped by something I'd read.

John will be dropping into the forum on Friday and Saturday to join in with the discussion and to respond to your comments and I know he's looking forward to it.

I can't wait to see what you have made of "The Book Of Lost Things".

Mark
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Sonia
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« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2007 »

Quote from: Mark
At the launch party for this book, John made a speech in which he talked about the worry that he had written a 300 page career suicide note...Of course, he need not have worried.

Indeed not Wink Well, never having read any of John Connolly's novels before, I am not in the position to compare them though. I'll stick to my opinions on TBOLT.

First of all, I must say, I enjoyed this month's selection a lot. It got me hooked instantly and I read it over a prolonged weekend. In the beginning I was skeptical, as I usually don't like books with a child-protagonist. But I'm glad I gave it a try nevertheless.

The fairy-tale atmosphere interwoven into real life is a genre I like a lot. Loads of scenes reminded me of previous books/movies I had seen: e.g. The Wizard of Oz (how to get home, the journey towards the castle); Labyrinth (abduction of a younger brother, the bridge riddle); The Brotherhood of the Wolves (beast episode); The Company of Wolves (Loups); Freaks (the end of the huntress); and loads of similar episodes in The Neverending Story, Alice in Wonderland, Neverwhere, well, basically every "fairy" tale I could think of. I was wondering whether the author was aware of all these tales himself and whether it was consciously written to remind the reader of those. If not, it was a lucky coincidence.

Mind you, this amalgamation of known stories should not be a bad critique for the book. Actually I enjoyed the book even more because it conjured up so many memories from other tales I had read before. In my opinion, intertextuality rules !

Now to the characters: I could feel a lot with main protagonist David, who lost his mother and whose father involved himself quite too soon with another woman for my taste.

Kinda grinned when the king ended up to be the lost boy Jonathan, something I was expecting since he had been first mentioned in the book. It's always cool if your suspicions turn out to be true. Wink

The two main characters who help David along the way are the woodsman and the knight Roland. I guess they stand for a kind of father-figure for David, as is also hinted at the end, that the woodsman reminded him of his father. What I liked about Roland is that he is not the stereotypical knight in shiny armour, as he is quite clearly homosexual. Such deviations from normal fairy-tale stereotypes make this book so great, in my opinion.

The worst character in the book obviously was the Crooked Man. It was a highlight for me that he should be the fairy tale character Rumpelstilzkin. Actually I knew the tale, but I didn't make the connection of the first-born child being handed over to him, perverted of course for the purposes of the book.

The only negative thing about the book I would mention at this point concerns one of the last chapters, where the Crooked Man's awful character is illustrated through his abominable deeds. The chapter was way too long for my taste, and going on and on about the pains he inflicts revolted me a lot. After the first example I was already put off, and I had to drag myself through the next pages, always hoping that it would finally stop. Dwelling almost voyeuristically on violence is something I cannot bear in a book. For my taste it was overkill, whereas one example would have been way enough to illustrate his evil character.

Still, the book redeems itself with a happy ending, an ending I was hoping for. The concept of a dream-land life after death is one that appeals very much to me. Actually when David went back through the cracks I had the same feeling of elation than I had when I read the end to Gaiman's Neverwhere, where Richard goes back to London Below. I was hoping for such an ending, and I got it.

Quote from: Mark
I finished it, somewhere above the Atlantic, with tears streaming down my face.

Tears were not far from my eyes either at the end.

Verdict: Excellent book. Thanks for suggesting it, Mark.

I probably have other points to discuss, but for now I have already crammed too much into this post. I'm curious what the others have to say about it. Smiley
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Kevin Wignall
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« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2007 »

Well Mark, if you keep choosing books that I've read I'll keep coming back!  I had a lot of issues with this book as I was reading, wasn't sure if I believed in it or not, wasn't sure how much I liked it.  But in some ways, and I know John will appreciate this analogy, it's like one of those albums that it takes you a little while to get into but then you can't stop listening. It's a book that's still fresh in my mind six months later and that's saying something for me.  John also deservers credit for trying something very different, and those of us who are writers know that his publishers deserve credit for letting him do it.  The end was indeed moving and haunting in equal measure.

Sonia, I thought the Roland character superb and I know there's been some discussion about this elsewhere, but I didn't assume he was homosexual at all.  I thought he represented the sort of fraternal love that was well understood in the middle ages. Of course, it wouldn't have mattered to me if he was intended to be homosexual, but I didn't take it as a given.
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clashcityrocker
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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2007 »

What initially struck me about TBOLT was the way in which the prose from the opening of the book changes very subtly and gradually as the story progresses. It begins with “once upon a time” and the language is, at this stage, a combination of he the child-like and the profound. However, as David grows in authority and maturity, and the tale becomes far darker, the writing reflects this.
 
It is apparent that the death of David’s mother has affected the boy far more deeply than his preoccupied father recognises.  He suffers from what we would today diagnose as Obsessive Compulsion Disorder and his mental state is very fragile. He attempts to reconnect with his mother through the books they’d read together. David is an introspective child, with few friends and lives in virtual seclusion with a new family he feels alienated from. The purpose of this background information is to establish David’s isolation, solitary nature and accompanying mental instability, which, in turn, could explain as delusional the experiences he has in The Kingdom. Did he experience these events or did he imagine them? This premise increasingly runs through John’s Charlie Parker novels where it is intentionally left unclear whether Parker is really in contact or conflict with supernatural forces or not. However, the essential difference with TBOLT is that the book is not told from a first person viewpoint, although we later learn that David himself is the narrator. This very cleverly gives the reader markedly different perspective from the Parker series of novels. There is an obvious and deliberate ambiguity at work. Is he in a coma, or does he really inhabit a world of trolls and talking wolves? Everything David experiences later, or is affected by, can be explained rationally: he has been exposed to a multitude of books and information in the “real” world, everything from fairy tales to Karl Marx and news bulletins. His subconscious fears and dreams are brought to life in The Kingdom. The wolves play such a pivotal role in the book because either David, or those who came before him, fear and are fascinated by them.

The time period in which TBOLT takes place is crucial to the narrative. To add tension to the story, it is set around the initial stages of Work War 2, which was a time of great national uncertainty and vulnerability. Things were finally balanced and could easily have tipped either way. There is a direct correlation between events in The Kingdom and the rise of tyranny in Europe, with differing ideologies and nations vying for overall dominance. The following quote could equally apply either to The Kingdom or to the parlous state of beleaguered Europe:
“Allegiances were formed; territories grew larger, or ceased to have any meaning at all; and cruelty raised its head.”
 And perhaps more pertinently, Leroi, the leader of the wolves observing: 
“Then perhaps it is time for a new order to rise.”
This has to be a clear reference to The Nazi Party and its plans for worldwide supremacy and the subjugation of other nations and races. The evolving loups begin to physically resemble humans, without losing their inherent animal savagery. In Nazi Germany the SS master race, in a blonde-haired blue eyed genetic experiment, attempt to evolve into super-humans, but lose much of their humanity as a result of acting without conscience or restraint.

It could be argued that Roland gives voice to the growing disillusionment with organised religion, with many of those in Europe feeling let down by the cynical way that some religious leaders chose to ignore, for political reasons, the horrors and persecution occurring under their noses:
“This God is as empty as his church. His followers choose to attribute all of their good fortune to him, but when he ignores their pleas or leaves them to suffer they say only that he is beyond their understanding and abandon themselves to his will. What kind of god is that?”
I may be stretching The Kingdom/Europe analogy too far; however, I firmly believe that TBOLT deserves and is intended to be read on more than one level.

Which is not to say that TBOLT is overly heavy with oblique references and messages. Like many a fable/fairy story there is a combination of the horrific, charming and the very funny. The passage in which David parts company from the dwarves had me laughing out loud:
“He heard them singing a song as they marched, one that Brother Number One had made for them as they went on their way to work. It didn’t have much of a tune, and Brother Number One seemed to have encountered some difficulty in finding suitable rhymes for `collectivisation of labour` and `oppression by the capitalist running dogs`.”  Simply brilliant and inspired.

Another positive about TBOLT is the strength of the imagery. Snow can be aesthetically wondrous and breathtaking; however here it is used to emphasise sterility, bleakness and the absence of any living thing. Yet such is the vividness of the writing, that a stark, barren kind of beauty is evoked. Stillness and silence enhance the mood of death, shame and emptiness David feels after he has slaughtered the two thieves, albeit reluctantly. A personal favourite scene is where the Crooked Man reaches through the snow and drags David underground and later nonchalantly chews on beetles. I also loved the way The Crooked Man spins into the earth.

As for The Crooked Man himself, he is a parasite who sustains himself by preying and feeding on lost, vulnerable, imaginative children. He exploits the less noble aspects of his victims’ natures and cajoles them into betraying those closest to them. He is the personification of all human negativity, though not fully human himself. During much of the novel he is omniscient, even to the extent of knowing what is happening in the “real” world. Later, however, as he weakens he is unaware of the full extent of David’s actions or intentions. If many of the central characters are based on fairy tale counterparts, then The Crooked Man is probably Rumplestilskin. Yet he is so much more than a one-dimensional character. He is quite persuasive when relating to David how his family are indifferent about his absence. And despite the fact that he is an habitual deceiver, his words to David prove later to be prophetic. There is a lovely irony in how The Crooked Man is desperate for David to reveal the name of his brother, then later sings a nursery rhyme to himself, “Georgie, porgie, pudding and pie.”

TBOLT, then, conveys humour, terror, and more importantly, love. David’s family ties, which bind the whole story together from beginning to end, are stretched though never broken. It is only when these ties have perished in the past, through betrayal, that The Crooked Man is empowered. Although the title refers to an individual book, the theme of this novel is the way in which books as a whole can impact on our lives. It is hugely significant that during a traumatic episode in his life-the death of his mother-David takes solace in reading. Surely this resonates with many of us to whom books play an essential part of our lives. The tomes whisper to him. So not only do books come to life metaphorically, in this instance they do so quite literally, and they communicate and demonstrate their own individual contents, messages and characteristics. The inference here is that to so many of us books are, on some level, alive, and have a life force of their own. Just as music is more than a collection of notes, books exist as far more than printed words on a page. Books have the power to enlighten, educate, fascinate and touch. All of which, incidentally, TBOLT does quite brilliantly. It is a measure of John Connolly’s skill that he is able to frighten the reader, make him/her laugh and on the final page deliver such an emotional punch, that the reader is left with a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye. All this without ever slipping into sentimentality, and within the constraints of a fairy story.

I’ve been a fan for a few years and TBOLT is up there with the best of John Connolly’s work. An amazing novel in every way.
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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2007 »

Hi Mark and everyone else,

being a fan of the Tom Thorne series I decided to register on this forum a couple of weeks ago, but haven't posted yet and I apologize sincerely for starting on this forum in a topic about John Connolly's TBOLT. I'll join other discussions as well, I promise  :)

I've been an avid fan of John Connolly's writing from the beginning (Every Dead Thing) and it was on his forum I saw a link to this topic.

Read TBOLT when it came out last year. At first I was a bit apprehensive, because a fairytale obviously was quite a departure from the Parker novels for John (and us). But I needn't have worried, because it was a great read. Mesmerizing and gruesome at the same time, the journey from child to adult, from life to death brilliantly described.

I didn't exactly shed tears at the end of the book (although I had a lump in the throat which wasn't easily swallowed away). Strong, heavy and strangely uplifting.

As always, I loved John's prose, the images he evokes and the atmosphere he manages to give his worlds.

V.
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norby
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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2007 »

I remember being amazed after reading the book that John had been worried about it being successful at all.  I thought it was wonderful.  

Having dealt with depression, anxiety and the odd bout of obsessiveness here and there, I could really identify with David.  I have the habit of burying myself in books and the internet when I'm feeling overwhelmed and depressed, so David's response to his mother's death and his father's remarriage made sense to me.  Although I'm happy to say my books have never whispered to me.

When I was child I used to dream about the characters from my favorite movies coming to life and involving me in their adventures-the ultimate escape from the stress of being me, or so I thought.  What I really loved about TBOLT, then, was the way John turned the familiar tales on their head.  The stories I thought I knew so well suddenly became foreign and oh so funny.  Imagine being David and having to navigate through this new world-running into things he thinks he's familiar with only to find out that they're not so familiar after all.

The Crooked Man-he is so relentlessly evil, if you've read any of John's other books, you know there's always someone like this, but the Crooked Man, he takes it to a whole new level.  Not only is he evil, he's slithery and slimy about it.  He doesn't just want David, he wants David's little brother too.  And he uses all sorts of trickery and deceit to try and get him.

You know, I feel like I'm just typing gibberish here, and I actually wasn't able to finish re-reading the book because I had to give it to a friend to read.  Every time I recommend this book to someone I'm always hard pressed to tell why I like it so much-I just do.  There's something about it that is just appealing, that pulls you in and doesn't let go.
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Rock chick
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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2007 »

I wasn't at all sure about TBOLT when I started it - it certainly would have not been a book of choice, but by the end I was very sorry indeed to turn the last page - and what a last page it was!

TBOLT is a real traditional fairy tale - the good are unremittingly good, the bad unchangably evil, with a journey and a quest, a good scrap or two, and a happy ending.

It put me very much in mind of Clive Barker's Weaveworld and Calabash..magical people and strange faraway places. The plot of the book was simple enough, but beautifully, lyrically told, and David's increasing maturity was particularly well-written - you could almost hear his voice deepen as the tale unfolded.

I think the real appeal of the book is that it really spoke to all of us who loved books as children - there can't be any one of us wouldn't love to hear our books talking to us, and for a magical world from one of these books to be real for us.

A big departure from John's usual work, but something of a triumph, I think.
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Jez
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« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2007 »

Finished the book with so much to say and have found so much already said (hats off to CCR especially). My only addition at this stage is something rather prosaic. The ending came as something of a shock. Not because of the events but because my paperback copy of the book has 150 pages of notes at the end (did it always have these or were they added for the PB?) and I hadn't realised this until they were almost upon me. I wont say it spoiled my enjoyment because I loved the book and have spent all day recommending it, but it did colour my reaction to it. With about 50 pages to go I was wondering how it could be sustained for a further 200 pages as it appeared to be building to a climax. With two pages to go I wished I had been warned. Ho-hum. That said, the notes are really interesting.
Am about to start a campaign to have the book taught at the school I'm working at and am likely to staple my own children to the sofa until they've finished it.
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rockrebel
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« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2007 »

I'm sorry guys but I didn't finish it. I tried to get into it, I really did. I struggled up to page 75 , never reading more than 15 pages in one sitting because it was so slow. I'm afraid I found it boring and it just didn't grip me at all.

I figure life's too short to force yourself to finish something you're not enjoying.
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norby
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« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2007 »

At the risk of sounding negative (c'mon, Norby you were expecting it!!) I didn't particularly enjoy this book.  I finished it so I can't deny I didn't get some enjoyment out of reading it, it started off very well, JC has a very vivid and gripping way of grabbing your attention and I was well and truly sucked in to keep reading, however, once we reached the fairy tale stage, you lost me.  The Snow White section I particularly snorted through and not in a good way.  It reminded me too much of a completely similar project where we had to change well known faery tales into a modern story, so scarily similar that if I hadn't gone to an all girl's school, I would have suspected Mr C was the quiet one in the corner that I never noticed and used that stupid 20 yr old project as inspiration.  I rallied briefly towards the end but all in all, a no from me.  I was disappointed because I had heard good things but it was a bit like salivating over a good steak in a restaurant only to be told the steak is off, but you can have a cannelloni instead, a good choice but not quite what you were expecting or wanting.    Undecided  Sorry, throw the flames, I care not a jot, I'm too busy thinking about a steak now..... Wink

However, I hate to end on a disappointing note so I will say I LOVED the cover, very touchy feely! Grin

Helena!!!  Well, I think we all know that not every book is for every person.  Of course John will probably hunt you down and get you for it.

Although that is what, two books now that I've liked that you've panned, I'm going to get hurt feelings soon!!  Just kidding-TBOLT is quite different from what we on this forum usually read and quite honestly I'm not surprised to see that you, and now Rock Rebel have found it not to your liking.  One of the things I like about participating on both Mark and John's forums is that there are different types of readers on each forum.  By that I mean that the folks on John's forum, while enjoying crime/mystery novels, also enjoy horror, sci-fi and an odd variety of other genres.  Ones that i usually don't see on this forum.  By visiting both forums, all of my interests are met.  Smiley
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Sonia
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« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2007 »

Interesting points of view so far. I enjoy reading these discussions about books. Reminds me of my university years LOL Especially CCR's contribution, almost was a thesis in itself.

Sorry, I need to comment on a few things, but I guess that's why discussions are there for Wink

Quote from: Kevin Wignall
Sonia, I thought the Roland character superb and I know there's been some discussion about this elsewhere, but I didn't assume he was homosexual at all. I thought he represented the sort of fraternal love that was well understood in the middle ages. Of course, it wouldn't have mattered to me if he was intended to be homosexual, but I didn't take it as a given.

I thought it was meant to be quite obvious though. Not only from what the Crooked Man said to David (I wouldn't go to much on his talk anyway, as he would pervert anything to his purposes), but the way Roland behaved himself:

- he carried a locket with Raphael's picture around: mostly on does that with the beloved one
- he said his love for Raphael was nobody's business: why being secretive if it was only well-understood fraternal love ?
- he had a clash over it with his father: only for fraternal friendship, the father probably wouldn't have minded, don't you think ?

Be that as it may, all this got me to believe that he shared for Raphael more than just platonic love. And it would fit into the concept of the book, taking well-established ideas or tales, and twisting them around. Same happened to Snow-White and Sleeping Beauty, for example. They're not the nice, beautiful princesses, but rather annoying, or even lethal ones.

Quote from: clashcityrocker
It is apparent that the death of David’s mother has affected the boy far more deeply than his preoccupied father recognises. He suffers from what we would today diagnose as Obsessive Compulsion Disorder and his mental state is very fragile. He attempts to reconnect with his mother through the books they’d read together.

Good that you mention it, I actually also had to think about OCD when I read about David's routines. And the whispering of the books, I wondered whether this wasn't a hint of some kind of upcoming schizophrenia, but maybe that is pushing it too far.

Anyway, up until the end I wasn't sure whether he had dreamt it all, seeing that he was lying in a coma, or whether he had really experienced it all. There are arguments pro and against it.

Quote from: clashcityrocker
There is a lovely irony in how The Crooked Man is desperate for David to reveal the name of his brother, then later sings a nursery rhyme to himself, “Georgie, porgie, pudding and pie.”

I am sure that the crooked man very well knew Georgie's name. He probably could even have snatched him if he had wanted to. But like in fairy tales, people are under a spell and cannot react out of that. The Crooked Man's purpose was to get a child to betray another child. Only then can he fulfill his purpose. By that, he not only kills one child, but two (figuratively, at least).

Quote from: norby
When I was child I used to dream about the characters from my favorite movies coming to life and involving me in their adventures-the ultimate escape from the stress of being me, or so I thought.

Ah, didn't we all ? I admit, even nowadays I don't feel too old to imagine my own adventures. Always helps me fall asleep at night. Wink

Quote from: Rock chick
It put me very much in mind of Clive Barker's Weaveworld and Calabash..magical people and strange faraway places.

Oh, yes, Weaveworld is wonderful. You're right, I could have mentioned that one as well in my comparisons. Haven't read Calabash, is it a sequel ?

Quote from: gungho
my paperback copy of the book has 150 pages of notes at the end (did it always have these or were they added for the PB?)

I have a PB, but it doesn't have notes Sad Now I feel I missed out on something. What kind of notes ? Explanations to the stories or personal ideas from the author ?
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TonyK
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« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2007 »

Thought I would drop my thoughts in, even though I haven't quite finished it yet and am dashing off to Amsterdam for a stag weekend in 15 minutes so don't think I will get any reading done this weekend!

I am totally unsure if I am enjoying this book or not. I am reading it with moments of pure joy and then moments of complete frustration as it appears that elements have been ripped from other sources, and none too subtly at that. I am reading it going 'that was done by Roald Dahl', 'that seems very similar to Time Bandits' , the Seven Dwarves being a co-operative part seemed to be a rehashed sketch from Monty Python ( either Holy Grail peasants in the mud - Here comes the King part, or Life Of Brian Peoples Front of Judea, take your pick), elements of Clive Barker, Company Of Wolves etc.

But there are areas where the story bowls along at a fantastic rate and the telling is done wonderfully, and the tension racked up. I particularly liked the Roland part up to now, and was really saddened by the end of that part.

Whether the Woodsman and Roland represent a replacement for the father figure that has been missing or represent the strength and protection offered by the mother I am unsure, but I am sure we have all dreamed ( especially as kids) that some dashing, powerful protector would come into our lives and take us off on adventures.

There's the taxi, must go. Will try and catch up when I get back.

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chelbel
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« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2007 »

I loved this book.
From the very first sentance i was drawn in.  However where others have stated they cried at the end.  I had tears streaming down my cheeks at the begining.  How John captured David's emotions throughout his Mothers final days touched me.  The lump in my throat held for the remainder.
I never knew what was going to happen next. Okay, i hoped for a happy ending, yet i really wasn't sure.
Fear i thought was the main emotion in this book.  And  i felt Davids the whole time i was reading  it.
His journey was great and in true Fairy tale fashion he wandered off his path and so made a few friends and had a few adventures along the way.
A fantastic break from the norm.  If John wrote more like it, i'd buy them.
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Mark
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« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2007 »

As well as being a wonderful story about books and their power, it is for me a hugely powerful study of loss - of innocence of course and of those you love. For some that have already felt that loss keenly it will resonate and it resonated with me, as one who has so far been lucky, because I know that inevitably that luck will run out. If ever a book coud be said to have spoken to me, this one did. It said "get ready"...

And boy, can John ever create villains. For anyone unfamiliar with the rest of John's stuff (and shame on you if you are), the Crooked Man is the latest in a long line of monsters that stay with you long after the book is finished...

Mark
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tzara
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« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2007 »

It took me a little longer than usual  to get into the book, but when I did Wow what a voyage it took me on, I felt transported and was completely engrossed... Much has already been said in the wide-ranging and excellent comments already made, and I also experienced the same feelings as others who read it.

I felt David's devastation, emptiness and loneliness at the loss of his Mother,  and wanted to just take him in my arms and mother him. So the overwhelming feeling I had throughout was one of wanting to protect David from all the evils he met as the book progressed. I felt at one stage that it was more of a male orientated book, but this didn't in any way detach from my enjoyment of it.


The flowers with children's faces, loups, wolves etc, etc  acute  and powerful imagery, so intense and enthralling. I was reminded of some of Angela Carters writing.
Like gungho I didn't realise that there were authors notes at the end, I haven't read those yet as I thought these my colour my feedback, and wanted to comment first. So I have those  to look forward to.

I found myself with tears in my eyes many times while reading this wonderful book, bu there are two parts in particular where I really cried.
The woodsman leads David into the courtyard and tells him to climb on his horse, but David goes to find Scylla, she is terrified by the noise of battle and wolves, she whinnies with relief when she sees David, he whispers calming words to her and they ride off...Oh I'm crying as I write this!!! I fell in love with the loyalty of Scylla and willing David not to forget about her.
The chapter 'Of Rose' utterly beautiful, but so sad when he had to leave Scylla. But uplifting and reassuring after so much apprehension, clarity about David's future happiness, and the honesty of the woodsman. A joy of a read, one I'll read again and again. Thanks John, and thanks Mark for suggesting it.

p.s. I lurve the cover, look and feel of it!
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